Thursday, March 30, 2006

Harper, Bush and Fox in Cancun - Mar. 30

As you can see, I have decided to renew at stratfor, at least for another year. Hope you enjoy the article.

The Man in Black

Stratfor -- Predictive, Insightful, Global Intelligence


Canada, Mexico, U.S.: The Spring Break Summit
Mar 30, 2006
Summary

U.S. President George W. Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper are meeting in Cancun, Mexico, on March 30-31 to evaluate progress on the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. Despite important issues regarding the three countries' relations, like migration and border security, the conference will not produce any significant announcements. Bilateral conversations between the leaders, however, will prove interesting, especially Bush and Harper's first formal meeting. Ultimately, the summit looks like little more than a vacation for one leader who is embattled, another on his way out and a third learning his away around.

Analysis

U.S. President George W. Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper are meeting in Cancun, Mexico, on March 30-31 to evaluate progress on the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, established a year ago at a summit in Waco, Texas.

The partnership was established to create a framework for the next step in relations among the three countries after the North American Free Trade Act. Despite the importance of the issues confronting the three leaders -- migration, border security and trade disputes -- there will not be any major announcements. Ultimately, the most significant thing to emerge from the summit will be images of camaraderie rather than weighty decisions.

Progress on the issue of migration and border security depends upon the U.S. Congress at present. Thus, neither Bush nor Fox can do much in their conversations to help untangle the immigration debate in the United States. For five years, Fox has advocated the necessity of a comprehensive U.S.-Mexican labor mobility agreement, enjoying Bush's support before Sept. 11. After the attacks on New York and Washington, it became clear that such an agreement would not be forthcoming for the next few years, and that border security had become the new priority. Without a clear proposal from the White House, Congress took over the issue, propelled by advocates of stringent anti-immigration measures that would result in a shutdown of the border and the jailing and deportation of millions. In contrast to the House of Representatives bill, which focused on the law-enforcement aspects of the immigration debate, the Senate has discussed a more comprehensive series of bills. The benefits or defects of the different bills being discussed by Congress aside, as of summit time, Bush has nothing to offer. Neither does Fox, whose government lacks any significant lobbying presence in Washington, unlike the previous two Mexican administrations.

In any case, both Bush and Fox would like to give the impression that a bill like the one approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 27 is acceptable to both. Fox would prefer to achieve some sort of immigration agreement, meaning he would not have to leave office empty-handed, while Bush would like to have something to offer Hispanic voters in the United States. Only a full immigration agreement would give Fox something that he could use to aid his party's candidate in the Mexican presidential election. Such a deal is clearly not forthcoming, so Fox is not even trying.

Understandably, border security has been a main U.S. concern, one that many fail to recognize is multilayered. Three main aspects of the issue fuel U.S. concerns. The first is the violence generated by gangs and organizations that smuggle people from Mexico to the United States. The second is the war between drug cartels at Mexican border towns like Nuevo Laredo and Tijuana, which has begun spreading to the U.S. side of the border. The third is the issue of the control and monitoring of cargo between the countries to prevent the possible smuggling of material destined for a terrorist attack.

While no progress has been made on people-smuggling, the leaders will be able to announce that cooperation between the two countries against the drug cartels has increased, and will continue to do so. Despite this positive statement, the U.S. government has advised Mexico that it is not satisfied with the progress of efforts to capture some of the most violent traffickers, like Los Zetas, members of the Mexican military who defected to work for the cartels. Both Fox and Bush would like to be able to point to something during this summit to signal Congress that they are taking care of the border security issue, but they are not likely to get what they want. The two countries can also point to significant progress in the coordination of monitoring systems for cargo shipments across the border, as well as expediting the passage of those who live and work on different sides of the border.

In trilateral terms, there also has been steady progress in the regulatory agenda and in other areas like environmental cooperation, natural-disaster assistance and health services. For example, all three countries are likely to announce a joint strategy to prevent or contain a bird-flu epidemic.

This will be the first meeting between Bush and Harper, and there are some outstanding issues between Canada and Mexico, too. Prominent among these are a continuing trade dispute over softwood lumber and the U.S. decision to require Canadians to produce passports when entering the United States. No decision on the softwood lumber issue is expected.

The relationship among the three countries seems to have reached a point beyond which no significant progress will be made until the political environment changes. In Mexico, presidential elections are set for July; Fox will be a lame duck from then until the new president assumes office Dec. 1. Bush has been significantly weakened by the Iraq war and several other factors, and cannot push for anything too bold, especially in light of the bitter divisions in his Republican base over the immigration issue. Finally, this is Harper's first summit after his recent election. Given these factors, the three leaders might as well have announced they planned on taking spring break in Cancun. By the look of it, that seems to be what is happening.
Copyright 2006 Strategic Forecasting Inc. All rights reserved.

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