Thu, Aug 23, 2007 - Page 7 News List

N American trade, security meet wraps up

AFP , MONTEBELLO, CANADA

North American leaders wrapped up a two-day summit here on Tuesday, trumpeting consumer protections and other joint efforts, while dismissing charges of plotting to erode national sovereignty.

The trilateral talks were "as cordial as they were constructive," said host Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, flanked by US President George W. Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon at a closing press conference.

Canada, the US and Mexico are "independent and interdependent," Harper said. "And we're committed to working together on mutual security, continued economic growth and expanding our unique North American relationship."

The partnership was launched at the first "Three Amigos" summit in Waco, Texas, in March 2005, but has been attacked by activists, labor groups and academics critical of its business focus.

A perceived lack of openness in the negotiations has also provoked the ire of anti-globalization activists, environmentalists, peace activists and civil rights groups -- united in their suspicions of the outcome.

In response, the Canadian prime minister quipped: "A couple of my opposition leaders have speculated on massive water diversions and superhighways on the continent, maybe interplanetary."

And he jabbed at, for example, the different rules for jelly bean contents in Canada and the US, saying: "Is the sovereignty of Canada going to fall apart if we standardize the jelly bean? I don't think so."

The meeting, the third installment of the Security and Prosperity Partnership framework, was aimed at harmonizing rules on trade and security across North America.

Canada, the US and Mexico already form a trading bloc under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But some academics have called for even greater integration to compete with burgeoning China, India and the EU.

"If you're a US citizen, you want people that live close to you to be prosperous. The more prosperity in your neighborhood, the more hopeful your neighborhood is," Bush said.

NAFTA "has created a lot of political controversy in our respective countries," he conceded, but it "has yielded prosperity."

Trilateral trade had surged from US$293 billion per year to US$883 billion a year, since 1994, he said.

Calderon went further, saying: "We must relaunch in a stronger way the strength of the relationship between the three countries of North America.

"I think this meeting could be the beginning of a new age in the framework of the relationship of the three countries," he said.

The three leaders agreed on joint consumer aegis, following recent recalls of toys, dog food and toothpaste, and growing worries about defective "made in China" goods, imported into North America.

They also broached climate change, upcoming APEC talks, pandemic planning, border security, the Middle East and Haiti "where all three of our countries are working to advance freedom, democracy and development," Harper said.

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