MEXICO CITY - When Presidents Vicente Fox of Mexico and George W. Bush of the United States met in 2001, they promised to advance, along with Canada, towards the creation of a North American economic community. But they have not done so. On Friday they reiterated their pledge.
The three governments will move forward in a Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, Fox - whose terms ends in December - said Friday at the end of a two-day meeting with Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the Mexican resort of Cancún.
An activist wearing U.S. President George W. Bush mask (L) protests outside the U.S. embassy in Mexico City March 30, 2006. President Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper were in the Cancun resort city for a two-day meeting. REUTERS/Henry Romero
The "partnership" provides a framework for collaboration in areas like economic competitiveness, technology, education, security, transportation, the environment, public health, the building of infrastructure, and the definition of common standards in job promotion, the administration of justice and border security.
Bush said social justice in the region was more likely to be achieved with a prosperous society, and that "prosperity has been increased as a result of the trade between our nations."
And reiterating a concern that has been expressed over and over by his administration, the U.S. leader added that "we've got to make sure we work hard to secure the borders."
Since 1994, Canada, Mexico and the United States have been joined together in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
With respect to migration, the thorniest issue between Mexico and the United States, Fox suggested to the United States at the start of his term in December 2000 to design a plan for opening the border in the long-term and for a more orderly migration.
Later, when he was visited by Bush in February 2001, the two spoke of "inaugurating an era of shared prosperity together," which observers said would mean a plan for a model of integration similar to that of the European Union, with its common currency, open borders and common institutions for the administration of justice and trade.
On that occasion, the presidents also expressed their full support for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which was to be created by 2005.
But the FTAA initiative failed to prosper. Nor did the focus of the NAFTA model of trade integration change.
Moreover, in the last six years, relations between Mexico and the United States - its main trading partner - have frequently run into rocky ground.
Ties between the two countries cooled off in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and especially after Mexico refused to support the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
In the meeting in Cancún that ended Friday, Fox and Bush once again swapped praise and repeated, along with Harper, that regional integration must go beyond NAFTA.
The next summit of the three leaders of North America will take place next year, when Fox is no longer in office.
His most likely successor, according to the polls, is leftist candidate Andrés
López Obrador, who says that if he wins the Jul. 2 elections, he will review NAFTA, which he maintains has failed to bring Mexico the promised benefits.
"Fox is on his way out, and his potential successor says he will renegotiate NAFTA, while Bush's standing has sunk, and Harper does not appear to be overly enthusiastic about integration. In summary, the promises for integration in a North American community are unlikely to bring results," foreign affairs analyst Tomás Vergara told IPS.
In the final stretch of his six-year presidency, Fox has placed his hopes in helping persuade the United States to reform migration law, in order to improve the situation of hundreds of thousands of undocumented Mexican immigrants, said the analyst. But, he added, the president is unlikely to achieve that goal.
On Monday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved an immigration bill that includes mechanisms for eventually legalising more than 10 million undocumented migrants, and for providing temporary visas to some 400,000 guest workers a year.
The full Senate began to debate the bill on Tuesday. The Judiciary Committee's vote on the new bill followed mass marches on an unprecedented scale in the streets of several U.S. cities.
The Mexican government, meanwhile, claimed that the U.S. immigration reform is finally moving forward thanks to its own insistence and the proposals it has set forth over the years.
However, the reform bill must still make it through the full Senate, after which it will have to be reconciled with a bill passed in December by the House of Representatives, which would crack down hard on illegal immigration and expand the walls and fences along the Mexico-U.S. border.
Several U.S. lawmakers warned that final passage of a wide-ranging reform bill that would respond to the concerns of immigrants was unlikely.
Most of the 40 million immigrants of Latin American origin living in the United States are from Mexico.
Between 1993 and 2005, around 3,800 Mexicans died in the attempt to make it across the U.S. border.
© 2006 IPS - Inter Press Service