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Conference Summary: North American Futures

Jeremy Kinsman: Berkeley-British Columbia Symposium: North American Futures:

Initial commentary from presenter Brad DeLong of Berkeley stressed that American political and economic governance was too overwrought with immediate internal issues and consequence to favor adding in new initiatives of major dimension. Chrystia Freeland of the Financial Times expected that now is not the moment to expect the US to think about “non-US solutions;” the critical US political issue is unemployment and the principal stance is defensive. Brad Delong asked rhetorically, “If the US can’t even manage the economy on behalf of its own citizens, what chance is there it could do so for the partial benefit of the citizens of Canada?” Yet, intra-NAFTA trade was in decline. Expectations for the of re- invigoration of NAFTA had to take account of the fact it would take a major effort to get the US to live up to its existing treaty obligations under NAFTA, though there is at least some acknowledgment politically the US has been in violation of obligations to Canada on both softwood lumber and Buy America. Preoccupation with US political and institutional gridlock meant there was little discussion of whether agreements could be negotiated for greater convergence in regulations and standards affecting finance and trade in goods and services.

Response from discussants and the floor pushed back against what appeared as laconic and inward-looking detachment from the challenges of international reality.

David Emerson stressed the over-arching fact of America’s competitive erosion in the globalizing world economy. He laid a lot of blame at the door of the role of money in US politics, arguing that this had made the US so protectionist, and contributed to counter-productive border thickening. Strengthening globally efficient North American supply chains in a more vigorous NAFTA is essential to restoring the competitive position of all North America.

He described the effects of globalization in positioning China in particular to “take us on.” The challenge argued for essential collaboration on such issues as climate change among North Americans, and in response to an observation from Pierre-Marc Johnson, possibly among North America and the EU. However, it was underlined by Brad de Long and others that there should be no question of an alliance against China.

China could be effectively engaged in a positive way from a North American platform, possibly in coordination with EU partners, though the “realist” view was that the US would actually prefer to opt for a G-2 relationship of its own with China.

Chrystia Freeland expected the environment to be an increasing point of tension between the US and Canada. David Emerson agreed that the “geo-politics” of the environment/natural resources swirl of issues could become more fractious before there is a strategic convergence on North American solutions, but that the logic of the argument in favor of a North America- wide approach to shared problems would become increasingly apparent politically.

As these issues are also driving global agendas, discussion took up with interest the potential significance of the proposition in the Dobell paper that North America could indeed be a “first mover” on such questions in global discussion and eventual resolution – similar to Ambassador Pickering’s proposal the two countries seek to identify “project-models.”

This led to the recommendation North American coordination also take place on the larger trilateral basis including Mexico, across a range of economic and infrastructural policies, a theme that was taken up in subsequent panels.