On August 9-10, President Barack Obama will meet with President
Felipe Calderón of Mexico and Prime Minister Stephen Harper
of Canada at the fifth annual North American Leaders Summit in
Guadalajara, Mexico. These leaders should focus attention on the
strong ties binding North America: a shared commitment to
democratic values, free markets, and expanding trade opportunities,
the need to meet growing energy needs, and improving security
against domestic and international threats.
The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) enhanced
trade and investment flows between the three neighbors. Fifteen
years later, NAFTA partners generate an annual GDP of $17 trillion,
roughly 2.5 times greater than the People's Republic of China and
$2 trillion greater than the European Union. The NAFTA zone
represents the largest single free-trade area on the planet, bar
none. Working to strengthen vital economic ties and advancing
strategies to exploit competitive advantages within a framework of
three distinct, sovereign nations will preserve North America as a
powerful leader for prosperity on the international scene.
The Guadalajara meeting is a chance to uphold NAFTA commitments,
reaffirm support for free market development, and speak out against
creeping protectionist sentiments and legislation in the U.S. After
years of leadership on this issue, the U.S. may now be the
Congress's refusal in early 2009 to continue funding a pilot
program that permitted 100 Mexican-owned trucks--all carefully
monitored and checked for safety--to operate on U.S. highways
handed a victory to the Teamsters union and organized labor while
betraying a NAFTA obligation. It also provoked a Mexican trade
countermeasure that will cost U.S. producers billions of dollars in
Mexican market share if not resolved. Furthermore, the Obama White
House acquiesced in the protectionist raid on U.S. trade policy
that was executed through the shameless "Buy American" provisions
in the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
These insular and protectionist actions angered Canada and Mexico
by skirting NAFTA and World Trade Organization commitments.
Canada is a democracy with oil reserves second only to Saudi
Arabia and abundant quantities of natural gas, but its tar sands
with their heavy carbon content have fallen out of favor with the
environmentalist and global warming crowd in the U.S.
Mexico, likewise a democracy, currently provides the U.S. with
over a million barrels of oil per day, making it America's third
largest supplier; however its output continues to fall each year
due in part to mismanagement. Mexico depends heavily on the
earnings of PEMEX, its national oil company, which provides 40
percent of total government revenue but badly needs foreign
investment and technology. To ensure future growth, Mexico must
open its hydrocarbon and electricity sectors to private
The Obama Administration promises "a green economy that will
create millions of new jobs for the 21st century." Unfortunately,
the White House view seems to be that governments rather than
markets should direct this massive energy transformation. That is a
recipe for inefficiencies and shortages. In order to benefit from
the full potential of resources in North America, a realistic,
private-sector-based energy program is needed.
The foundations of the rule of law and security in North America
are continuously under siege by criminal organizations. President
Calderón and the Mexican people feel they are bearing a
heavy burden in their fight to dismantle drug cartels and stop the
flow of tons of cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamines to
Since 2006, more than 10,000 Mexicans have been murdered in
drug-related killings, 600 of whom were law enforcement and
military personnel. Mexico's internal security and future
governability are threatened by lawlessness. Mexican drug cartels
aggressively push their destructive products on American consumers.
They operate in 230 U.S. cities and are America's largest organized
Working closely with the Calderón government, the Bush
Administration negotiated a multi-year package for counter-drug
cooperation known as the Merida Initiative. But implementation has
been slow. Some liberal Democrats and leftist U.S. NGOs seek to
impede delivery of the assistance, claiming the Mexican military
commits serious human rights violations. Meanwhile, the
international drug cartels are increasingly shipping their products
from Venezuela through rapidly destabilizing Central American
countries and into southern Mexico for overland smuggling into the
Although the Obama Administration has dispatched additional law
enforcement personnel to the Mexican border under a revamped
Southwest Border Security Initiative, it has also sent disquieting
and confusing signals about the direction of drug policy in the new
For example, White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske claims the
"war on drugs" is over and that the Administration is now waging a
vaguely defined "war on a product" that emphasizes new drug
demand reduction and treatment options. The Bush Administration's
hard-line stance on enforcement is gone, replaced by softer and
more permissive policies that green-light "medical marijuana" and
coddle users by promoting "needle exchanges."
Guadalajara Summit Goals
At the Guadalajara summit, President Obama should:
- Uphold NAFTA commitments. President Obama should
reaffirm U.S. commitments to work for a free, rules-based trading
system that fosters competition and innovation.
- Oppose special interests and protectionism.
Pressingforward with the Mexican pilot truck program and rejecting
"Buy American" provisions in government spending bills will
reassure taxpayers and America's neighbors of this nation's
readiness to engage in open, competitive trade.
- Promote realistic energy development and access. While
experimental ideas and trial projects for clean and renewable
alternative energies may be on the table, leaders should agree that
powering the future will require market-oriented, reliable,
technologically feasible, and comparatively secure sources of North
American energy--petroleum, coal, natural gas, and nuclear--for
decades into the future.
- Support President Calderón in the drug fight. The
Merida Initiative is a critical indicator of U.S. support for
Mexico in the fight against the drug cartels. President Obama
should commit to using this program as a platform for further
anti-drug cooperation and increase the resources dedicated to it in
order to demonstrate strong, consistent support in the drug
- Commit to a presidential demand reduction effort.
President Obama needs to voice his personal opposition to drug
consumption and abuse by speaking directly on the harm done not
only by trafficking but also by consumption of illegal substances,
including marijuana. This would significantly boost the
effectiveness of demand reduction messages at home and abroad and
bring needed clarity to the President's stance on the issue.
By promoting economic freedom and security, President Obama,
President Calderón, and Prime Minister Harper can ensure
that the North American Leaders Summit is a success.
Roberts is Research Fellow for Economic Freedom and Growth in
the Center for International Trade and Economics(CITE) at The
Heritage Foundation, and Ray Walser, Ph.D., is a Senior Policy Analyst
for Latin America in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for
Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom
Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage