Tuesday, August 11, 2009

North American Leaders Summit Raise Concerns Regarding Trade, Public Health, and Human Rights

President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined President Felipe Calderon in Guadalajara, Mexico for the annual North American Leaders Summit to discuss increased cooperation amongst, and the future of the three North American nations under the auspices of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which was enacted in 1994 presumably to relieve trade barriers between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

During this year’s summit, President Obama commented on the strong trading partnership among the three North American nations and that he intends to expand commerce between the three nations. Canada is America's top trading partner. China is America’s second top trading partner and Mexico is America’s third top trading partner. Given President Obama's intent to increase commerce between the three North American nations, the Buy American provision in the $787 billion economic stimulus package, which require many of the public works projects paid for by the U.S. economic stimulus plan to use materials made in the United States, has drawn criticism from Canadian Prime Minister Harper. However, President Obama stated that every effort will be made to implement the Buy American provision in a manner consistent with U.S. international obligations, while minimizing disruption to trade. As a result, Congress has made changes to the bill to include various exceptions. To date there has been no statistically significant change in trade between U.S. and Canada. The three leaders agreed to a shared recovery, to reform the international financial institutions, and to lay the foundation for future growth between the three North American nations.

With regard to public health, the three North American nations agreed to a "joint, responsible and transparent" response to the swine flu threat. President Obama noted that although, the Canadian health care system is fundamentally different from the U.S. system. He expects that "more sensible and reasoned arguments will emerge" regarding the U.S. national healthcare program.

Despite the lofty trading terms in NAFTA, NAFTA has drawn much criticism including, the loss of American jobs to Mexican workers, the collapse of small American and Mexican farmers, and a significant increase of illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States. Additionally, trade disputes have also arisen with Mexico alleging that the U.S. violated a NAFTA accord when the U.S. canceled a program allowing some Mexican trucks to operate in the U.S. Mexico responded by imposing retaliatory tariffs of $2.4 billion on U.S. goods back in March.

Not everyone was pleased with the North American Leaders Summit, approximately 400 people marched outside of the meeting place for the summit to protest the negative effects of free trade and to demand benefits for retired Mexican laborers who worked in the U.S. The protesters also demanded immigration reform in the U.S. and that Mexican laborers who work under the World War II guest-worker program receive the money withheld from their paychecks.

Human rights concerns in Mexico persist, particularly at the state level where violence surrounds local elections and misuse of the judicial system. However, President Calderon stated that the Mexican government has an "absolute and categorical" commitment to human rights.

Lydie Nadia Cabrera Pierre-Louis
Assistant Professor of Law
St. Thomas University School of Law

1 comment:

  1. Whatever happened to Obama's pledge to renegotiate NAFTA. You may recall there some tempest about whether this was all campaign rhetoric, and Austan Goolsbee spent some time assuming a lower profile after Canadian media reported that Obama did not really want to change NAFTA he just wanted to win the Ohio primary. Am I correct that no move has been made to change NAFTA?