With virtually no mention in the mainstream media, Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez convened on June 15, the first meeting of the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC), an apparently extra-constitutional advisory group organized by the Department of Commerce (DOC) under the auspices of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP).
A March 31 press release on the White House website, under the title “Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America: Progress,” announced the formation of the NACC. The press release noted that the NACC would meet annually “with security and prosperity Ministers and will engage with senior government officials on an ongoing basis.” The “SPP Ministers” were not identified. Moreover, the term “Ministers” was an unusual reference to the U.S. government, especially when the founding fathers had taken such pains to rid the U.S. of all terminology that could be reminiscent of monarchical systems such as the British royalty against whom the Revolutionary War was aimed. Evidently, the reference was to Gutierrez, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the three cabinet officers to whom the extensive SPP working groups organized in DOC are now reporting, as well as their cabinet level counterparts in Mexico and Canada.
The White House press release references no U.S. law or treaty under which the NACC was organized. Yet the press release notes that:
We are convinced that regulatory cooperation advances the productivity and competitiveness of our nations and helps to protect our health, safety and environment. For instance, cooperation on food safety will protect the public while at the same time facilitate the flow of goods. We affirm our commitment to strengthen regulatory cooperation in this and other key sectors and to have our central regulatory agencies complete a trilateral regulatory cooperation framework by 2007.
According to a notice on Trade.gov, a website maintained by the International Trade Administration of the DOC, the NACC membership consists of 10 “high-level business leaders” from Mexico, Canada, and the United States. An April 2006 report in the Mexican media quoted Angel Villalobos, undersecretary of International Trade Negotiations for Mexico’s Secretariat of Economy, as saying that nothing like NACC had ever before been created in NAFTA. Mr. Villalobos described NACC as “an umbrella organization within the SPP,” claiming further that SPP was created in 2005 to operate parallel to NAFTA.
A DOC press release on the day of the first NACC meeting seems to confirm that the “SPP Ministers” are the various cabinet level secretaries in the three countries to whom the SPP working groups report. The press release also references the March 23, 2005, Waco, Tex., meeting as the origin of SPP:
On March 23, 2005, leaders of North America launched the SPP. This initiative is meant to reduce trade barriers and facilitate economic growth, while improving the security and competitiveness of the continent. The leaders of North America confirmed their commitment to SPP when they met on March 31, 2006 in Cancun, Mexico.
The press release quotes Gutierrez as affirming the importance of NACC within SPP:
“Today is a continuation of President Bush’s strong commitment to our North American partners to focus on North America’s security and prosperity. The private sector is the driving force behind innovation and growth, and the private sector’s involvement in the SPP is key to enhancing North America’s competitive position in global markets.”
The Council of the Americas provided the more detail regarding the June 15, 2006 meeting of the NACC than was found on U.S. government websites. A NACC membership list found on the Council of the Americas’ website lists the U.S. members as coming form the following corporations (listed in alphabetic order): Campbell Soup Company, Chevron, Ford, FedEx, General Electric, General Motors, Kansas City Southern Industries, Lockheed Martin Corporation; Merck; Mittal Steel USA; New York Life; United Parcel Service; Wal-Mart; and Whirlpool.
A separate document on the Council of the Americas website presents a summarized transcript which claims that U.S. representatives in the June 15 meeting explained the composition of the U.S. delegation as follows:
“The U.S. section of the NACC has organized itself through a Secretariat — composed of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Council of the Americas — to maximize its efficiency and better communicate with its members.” Secretary Gutierrez was also paraphrased as stating, “The purpose of this meeting was to institutionalize the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) and the NACC, so that the work will continue through changes in administrations.”
The Council of the Americas is a private organization with offices in New York and Washington, D.C. According to the organization’s own description, the group’s members “include some of the largest blue chip corporations domiciled in the United States, who, collectively, represent the vast bulk of U.S. investment in and trade with the rest of the Americas.” The Mexican — U.S. Business Committee (MEXUS), organized as a standing committee of the Council of the Americas, is “the oldest bi-national private sector business organization with a focus on economic, commercial, and political relations in North America.” A MEXUS document on the Council of the Americas’ website self-credits MEXUS with having played “a critical role in the conceptual work that led to NAFTA,” plus active lobbying in that “its [MEXUS’s] members wore out significant shoe leather on Capital Hill, ultimately leading to successful passage.”
The Council of Canadians, a Canadian advocacy group that opposes NAFTA and SPP, charged that nine of the 10 appointees of the Canadian NACC delegation was drawn from the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. Maude Barlow, the National Chairperson for the Council of Canadians objected, stating, “This latest development clearly puts business leaders in the driver’s seat and gives them the green light to press forward for a North American model for business security and prosperity.” Ms. Barlow additionally questioned, “How truly accountable is the Harper government to the Canadian people when it gives preferential treatment to the big-business community in the design of its policies?”
Even a quick glance at the “North American Security and Prosperity” page of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives makes clear how ardently the organization champions SPP. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives was listed alongside the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI, Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internationales) and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) itself as being the sponsors for a March 2005 CFR-published task force report titled “Creating a North American Community — Chairman’s Statement,” pubpublished before the March 23, 2005 trilateral proclamation of SPP in Waco, Texas. The three groups are also attributed with sponsoring the May 2005 CFR publication, “Building a North American Community.”
The creation of the NACC is following the course prescribed by Robert A. Pastor, the American University professor who is was co-chair of the CFR task force that produced the two CFR publications described in the above paragraph. At a press conference presenting the CFR report, “Building a North American Community,” Robert Pastor said:
The North American summit that occurred in Texas on March 23rd is a very important statement. But if it’s to be more than a photo opportunity, we felt that a second institution was essential, and that would be a North American advisory council made up of eminent individuals, appointed for terms that are longer than those of the governments, and staggered over time. This council would propose ideas for dealing with North American challenges, whether they be regulatory or transportation or infrastructure or education, and put forth options to the three leaders to consider ways to adopt a North American approach.
Robert Pastor described this council as playing an active policy role in the formation of his hoped-for North American Community.
And hopefully, the three leaders would turn to this North American council and say, “Look we’re getting wonderful advice on what we should do about North America as a whole. Why don’t you prepare a plan for us on education, on agriculture, on the environment, and we would consider that even as we consider the advice of our government.”
Dr. Pastor’s comments seem to prefigure the June 15, 2006 first meeting of the NACC, even down to describing the membership of his “advisory council” as consisting of ten members from each of the trilateral states. If Dr. Pastor’s roadmap continues to be predictive, we recommend a serious look at his book, “Toward a North American Community,” in which he argues for the creation of a European Union-style fully institutionalized North American Union, constituting a super-regional government complete with a court, a parliament, a chief executive, and a new currency described as the “Amero.”
The Council of the Americas website lists five top priorities identified for the U.S. Section of the American Business: Energy Integration; Supply Chain Management/Trade Facilitation/ Customs Reform; Regulatory/ Standards issues — Harmonization and Sharing of Best Practices; Counterfeiting and Piracy — “Fake Free North America”; and Private Sector Involvement in Border Security and Infrastructure Projects.
A White House website shows photographs of President Bush, Mexico President Vicente Fox, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at their March 31 joint news conference in Cancun, Mexico, shaking hands in front of a backdrop proclaiming “Cancun 2006. Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America.” Increasingly, the three leaders are referring to the SPP as if the Waco, Texas press release announcement of March 23, 2005 constitutes an official new treaty-like trilateral status, advancing the trilateral partnership forward into a more institutional phase that can be termed at a minimum “NAFTA-Plus.”
At the Cancun press conference, Prime Minister Harper confirmed that the decision had been reached to advance SPP by forming NACC:
During my meetings with Presidents Bush and Fox, we reviewed the progress of our Security and Prosperity Partnership, which provides a framework to advance the common interests in the areas of security, prosperity, and quality of life.
We committed to further engage the private sector. We’ve agreed to set up a North American Competitiveness Council, made up of business leaders from all three countries, to advise us on ways to improve the competitiveness of our economies. They will meet with our ministers, identify priorities, and make sure we follow up and implement them.
In his comments at the Cancun press conference, President Bush also affirmed the presence of unnamed business leaders who had attended the trilateral summit meeting. President Bush commented, “I want to thank the CEOs and the business leaders from the three countries who are here.”
The DOC’s SPP website announcing the formation of NACC provides no information as to the membership requirements, the selection process, or the terms of the members appointed to the NACC. Nor is there any discussion of who pays for the travel expenses and the time of the participants. We find no charter published for the NACC, or any other specific delineation of roles and responsibilities, or reporting authority (except for a mention of the “SPP Ministers”). Equally lacking is a description of the enabling legislation or treaty under which the NACC operates.
According to an attendance list produced by the Council of the Americas, the June 15, 2006 meeting of the NACC was attended by Geri Word, deputy director of Office of NAFTA and Inter-American Affairs in the U.S. Department of Commerce; Dan Fisk, senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council; Al Martinez-Fonts, director of the Office of the Private Sector in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Elizabeth “Betsy” Whitaker, deputy assistant secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. Department of State; and Christopher Moore, deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.