SPP: “NAFTA Plus” takes shape

The letters “SPP” need to become as common in the minds of North Americans as the terms NASCAR and NFL. SPP is the acronym for “Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America,” perhaps a more significant expansion of corporate power than the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed in 1994. Official announcements about the SPP are minimal and tend to downplay its significance, but from what has been discovered so far, the SPP plans to significantly change government policies on a wide range of issues.

The presidents of Canada, Mexico and the United States announced the launch of the SPP on March 31, 2005 in Waco, Texas. Their founding declaration called for the formation of 13 cross-border working groups, now called the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC), composed of corporate leaders and government officials that will report to Cabinetlevel officials twice a year in addition to a meeting every March. The groups cover the following areas: manufactured goods and sectoral and regional competitiveness; movement of goods; energy; environment; e-commerce and information communications technologies; financial services; business facilitation; food and agriculture; transportation; and health. The lists of committee members have not been released, but from official declarations, apparently they are comprised solely of business and government representatives.

The NACC institutionalizes privileged access for corporations to government officials. Clearly corporations already possess much more access than other segments of society, but through the NACC, these same businesses will meet regularly with government officials. Entities excluded from this council, such as labor and environmental groups, will be at an even greater disadvantage than today.

While the SPP remains relatively unknown, its members are moving rapidly on a variety of initiatives. In June 2005, less than two months after the announcement of its existence, SPP working group members met with government leaders in Ottawa, Canada where they presented reports including spread sheets showing goals, objectives and time lines. No public disclosure was made of these plans – even to the legislative bodies of each country – but the transportation working group’s plan was leaked and shows that the aims are quite ambitious.

The most worrisome goal of this group is the creation of “multimodal corridors” which would run from Mexico through the U.S. to Canada, with six car lanes, four truck lanes, two freight rail lines, a highspeed commuter line, as well as “infrastructure for utilities including water lines, oil and gas pipelines, and transmission lines for electricity, broadband and other telecommunications services.” See http:// www.keeptexasmoving.org/projects/ for more details.

These multimodal corridors raise many serious concerns from people in the most affected states, especially Texas. They point out that 584,000 acres of land will be confiscated through eminent domain laws. In expectation of a rise in lawsuits on this issue, the Texas Department of Transportation has called for an increase in the numbers of courts that can hear eminent domain cases. Small roadside businesses note that they will lose customers due to infrequent entrance and exit ramps. Environmentalists say that wildlife habitats will be fragmented. Air pollution will rise not only due to an expected increase of vehicles passing through the region, but also due to the corridor’s distance from urban centers, creating longer local trips. Finally, SPP opponents question the estimated total cost for the Trans Texas Corridor of $145.2 billion to $183.5 billion: what is the source of this money, and will this drain funding for more urgent transportation needs in urban centers?

The Task Force on the Future of North America, a joint project of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales, drafted the original proposal for the SPP. According to notes from a 2004 meeting of the Task Force, “No item – not Canadian water, not Mexican oil, not American anti-dumping laws – is ‘off the table;’ rather contentious or intractable issues will simply require more time to ripen politically… Mexican oil and Canadian water … are invested with greater emotion than are those same natural resources in other countries. ... Consequently, policy recommendations on these issues are best considered long term goals.”

Proposals of this size and importance must be discussed with the highest amount of transparency and public participation. Go to the International Relations Center and read “Trinational Elites Map North American Future in ‘NAFTA Plus’” for more background on this issue: http://americas.irc-online.org/am/386.