"North America: Vision or Illusion?"
Robert Pastor talks
about his vision for strengthening the relationship
between Canada, the United States and Mexico by going
Vision of Integration in North America
Abigail Thorne-Lyman, Department of City and Regional Planning
Pastor, the Vice President of International Studies at American
University, concluded the U.S.–Mexico Futures Forum for
spring semester 2003 with a visionary look at the future of
North American relations. He argued that the future success
of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) hinges on
creating an international policy that works towards the economic
convergence of North America. The lecture was drawn from his
recently completed works, including his book, Towards a North
American Community: Lessons from the Old World for the New,
published in 2001.
people look at North America,” Pastor began, “they
don’t see a lot. They see a geographical expression.” Thus
when President Vicente Fox proposed “a community of North
America, an integrated agreement of Canada and United States
and Mexico” in July 2000, it was considered innovative
even six years after the creation of NAFTA. In light of increased
border security after Sept. 11 and unilateral action by the
United States, the future of integration between Canada, the
United States, and Mexico appears grim. Pastor argues that
in spite of difficult times, investment in the further deepening
of North American integration by strengthening the institutions
that connect the three countries and seeking trinational solutions
to issues such as security, transportation and economic development
would result in critical economic and political benefits for
all three nations.
in the United States and Canada need to realize that North
America is an interdependent economy, a concept that Pastor
described as neighborhood dynamics. If our neighbor improves
their situation, we improve, Pastor explained, and if our neighbor
fails, “we cannot contain the consequences of that.” As
we approach NAFTA’s ten-year anniversary, Pastor considered
the present realities of the agreement and looked toward the
European Union to provide lessons about how to deepen integration.
to Pastor, NAFTA has fulfilled many of the goals of its creators,
yet it has left many issues unresolved. North America has become
the largest free trade area in the world; trade and investment
between the three countries have dramatically increased. Today,
the United States exports four times more to Canada and Mexico
than to Japan and China. Trade in Mexico has greatly expanded
as well. Fifteen years ago, Mexico ranked alongside Brazil
in its gross trade value; since then, Mexican trade has more
than tripled. Most of this trade has been external to the maquiladora
system. In addition, there is evidence that NAFTA has contributed
to the creation of 22 million jobs since 1994.
though the three nations have become highly interdependent,
this has occurred in an asymmetrical manner. While 80 percent
of all Canadian and Mexican trade is with the United States,
only 30 percent of the United States’ trade is with its
neighbors. Despite indicators that NAFTA has had a positive
impact on overall economic growth, the “development gap” between
Mexico and its northern neighbors has continued to increase
since 1994. This gap transcends simple per capita income differences,
and refers also to an imbalance in job opportunities, educational
levels and basic infrastructure.
dearth of available jobs in central and southern Mexico has
had an enormous impact on the population distribution across
the nation. Increasingly, the Mexican population is concentrated
at the border with the United States, where most infrastructure
investment is also concentrated. Moreover, the gap in income
levels and job opportunities contributes to immigration, an
issue which has become controversial in the United States.
While one-fourth of legally documented immigration to the United
States is from Mexico, three-quarters of undocumented immigrants
to the United States enter from the Mexican border.
NAFTA has failed to narrow the development gap between Mexico and its northern
neighbors because the treaty failed to provide an institutional structure through
which international investment and collaboration might occur. Pastor summarized
the treaty with a quote by comedian Lily Tomlin: “Together, we are in
this alone.” According to Pastor, one of NAFTA’s weaknesses is
that it did not facilitate further investment in basic infrastructure or organizational
systems to support the increased volume of trade. Mexico has focused its NAFTA-oriented
investment on the border region, in part because there are no significant roads
to the center and south of the country and no money to build them. Furthermore,
Mexico is far behind the United States and Canada in its education and training
levels, yet no significant international investment has been made in the Mexican
argued that the United States and Canada could benefit greatly
by investing in Mexico’s basic infrastructure and post-secondary
educational systems. Not the least of these benefits is a predicted
decline – and perhaps reversal – in the number
of undocumented immigrants to the United States. Pastor described
the chain of events that might lead to this decline: As infrastructure
investments are made, industries would be able to move further
inland and to expand their Mexican operations. With some assistance
this could ultimately lead to an improvement in the quality
of life and job opportunities available to Mexican residents,
who might otherwise cross the border with the United States
to seek better work opportunities.
the long-range vision involved in Pastor’s proposal for
a more integrated North America, his path to achieving integration
is concrete. First, the United States must rethink its border
practices and procedures and reconsider the purpose of the
Department of Homeland Security. “Each terrorist threat…results
in a choking at the border,” Pastor observed. Eventually,
Pastor hopes that the customs offices in each nation can be
integrated to enforce one common external tariff and that these
offices can provide training at a central location to enforce
uniform customs treatment across North America.
North American nations should create strong institutions to
implement and monitor NAFTA activities. Pastor recommends the
creation of a “lean and advisory” group of fifteen
individuals appointed by the three countries, whose purpose
would be to create an agenda for the integration of North America.
Likewise, political leaders should create a court in which
trade and development practices can be deliberated. While institutions
of this type have been created ad-hoc, they have been primarily
symbolic in function. Finally, Pastor recommended that a parliamentary
group be created with representatives from the three countries.
While bi-parliamentary groups exist between the United States
and its neighbors, there is no such group for all three nations.
Moreover, Pastor observed, the United States Congress does
not take the existing groups seriously, much to the dismay
of political leaders in Mexico and Canada.
Pastor encouraged NAFTA policymakers to look to the European
Union for guidance on integration measures, he emphasized that
the European Union can also show North America what to avoid
in the creation of these international organizations. Pastor
argued that NAFTA organizations should remain “lean,” because
he believes the EU is currently slowed by excess bureaucracy.
He is optimistic that NAFTA can avoid this problem because
it has been “more market-driven as an integration experience” than
the “war-born” European Union, which was partially
created to mitigate political concerns.
its new institutional structures, NAFTA should invest in infrastructure
and post-secondary education in Mexico. Pastor proposes a $100
billion investment over ten years, which would come from both
the United States and Canada. Similar investments by the European
Union have demonstrated the effectiveness of this model in
closing the development gap between the poorest and wealthiest
European member nations. Twenty years ago, Mexico’s educational
system ranked with Portugal and Spain. By 2000, the Spanish
and Portuguese educational systems had improved dramatically,
while Mexico’s system showed little improvement.
integration of North America is more feasible than people may
realize. Pastor pointed out that international public opinion
surveys indicate that North Americans are increasingly supportive
of the concept of integration, even as political leaders emphasize “nineteenth
century views of national sovereignty.” The ten year,
$100 billion investment should not be considered a burden,
Pastor argued, when the United States is willing to invest
$75 billion in Iraq over the course of a year. Investment in
Mexico, moreover, would be more than recovered by narrowing
the North American development gap.
Pastor speaks with Professor Richard
Buxbaum (center) and Fernando
Sandoval after his talk. Professor Buxbaum,
who moderated the event, is the Jackson H. Ralston
Professor of International Law at Boalt Hall School
of Law, and Mr. Sandoval is the Deputy Consul of
Mexico in San Francisco.