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INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS -
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Border talks called `disturbing'

Posted in the database on Saturday, February 19th, 2005 @ 01:31:09 MST (2284 views)
by Sean Gordon    Toronto Star  

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OTTAWA—An influential tri-national panel has considered a raft of bold proposals for an integrated North America, including a continental customs union, single passport and contiguous security perimeter.

According to a confidential internal summary from the first of three meetings of the Task Force on the Future of North America, discussions also broached the possibility of lifting trade exemptions on cultural goods and Canadian water exports.

Those last two suggestions were dismissed in subsequent deliberations, say members of the task force, an advisory group of academics, trade experts, former politicians and diplomats from Canada, the United States and Mexico sponsored by the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.

Members said the task force's final report this spring will focus on "achievable" rather than simply academic questions like that of a single North American currency.

Nevertheless, the initial debates prompted a sharp reaction from trade skeptics and nationalist groups like the Council of Canadians, who fear business leaders and the politically connected are concocting plans to cede important areas of sovereignty at the behest of American business interests.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow said the summary, a copy of which was obtained by the Toronto Star, was "disturbing" and "shocking."

"What they envisage is a new North American reality with one passport, one immigration and refugee policy, one security regime, one foreign policy, one common set of environmental, health and safety standards ... a brand name that will be sold to school kids, all based on the interests and the needs of the U.S.," she said.

She said the discussions have added weight because the panel includes such political heavyweights as former federal finance minister John Manley.

Thomas d'Aquino, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and one of the task force's vice-chairs, said the summary reflected only preliminary discussions and scoffed at Barlow's concerns, saying insinuations of a secret agenda are "totally wrong."

"There is an acute awareness that we have three independent countries who have no intention of compromising their sovereignty," he said, adding the discussions on water and culture particularly "had no legs whatsoever."

Federal officials stressed the panel is independent of government policy, and that while efforts will continue to work with the United States to address common security and trade concerns, there are no discussions regarding more formal continental integration.

D'Aquino brushed aside the concerns stemming from the summary document, saying "every member of the task force is an independent, the first meeting was basically a scattering of ideas ... a great deal of ground has been covered since then."

And where Barlow and others see a sinister plot to serve the interests of corporate America, d'Aquino sees an effort to co-operate in the face of emerging economic powerhouses in Asia.

The document talks about the need to develop a North American brand, and muses about the possibility of common immigration and customs policies, closer consultation on monetary policy and integrated security policies. Points of discussion included:

"Trilateralizing customs and immigration at airports, ports and land borders."

"Applying the principle of inspection, one test, one certification throughout North America" for agriculture.

"Treating all North American citizens as domestic investors in each country."

 



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