With the recent trip of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Mexico on January 24, and the even more recent visit of Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the White House on February 4, the past several weeks have seen a lot of high-level engagement on North American issues.
In many respects the relationship between the United States and its two neighbors is as strong as it has ever been. With Mexico, the level of cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking is unprecedented. North of the border, President Obama is extremely popular, and the bond between Obama and Prime Minister Harper is robust.
But, as with all relationships, not everything is perfect. Take, for example, the cross-border trucking program with Mexico. Agreed to under the North American Free Trade Agreement, it was implemented for the first time as a pilot project in 2007 by then-President George W. Bush. The United States suspended the program in 2009, and Mexico responded by imposing tariffs on about 90 U.S. agricultural and manufactured exports worth about $2 billion a year.
Another irritant, with our northern neighbor, is the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada’s oil sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Some oppose the project because they fear the pipeline would cement U.S. dependence on “dirty oil” from Canada’s oil sands. But a recent study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy suggests that the pipeline would not have a significant impact on global carbon emissions. Global oil demand is not likely to change because of the construction of one pipeline; if Americans don’t use Canadian oil, others will. Ultimately, because the pipeline would cross an international border, the authority to approve the proposal rests with the U.S. Department of State.
Reestablishing the cross-border trucking program with Mexico would put an end to punitive tariffs on American goods, reduce wait times at the border, and facilitate trade. This is critical as we seek to recover from the global economic downturn. Several weeks ago Mexico and the United States began formal talks to attempt to resolve the trucking dispute.
Canada is the number one single provider of oil to the United States, and, perhaps more important, a stable and reliable supplier. The Keystone pipeline would only increase the stability and reliability of the U.S.-Canada oil relationship. A decision by the State Department on the Keystone pipeline is expected within the next several months.
In early February, the most senior representatives of the United States in Mexico and Canada, Ambassadors Carlos Pascual and David Jacobson, discussed these and other issues at the Council of the Americas. As the ambassadors emphasized, Mexico and Canada are among the United States’ most important trading partners and are our two-largest export markets. What happens on the other side of our northern and southern borders impacts us. And while cooperation and good will are high, as trucking and oil show, there is always room for improvement. We would be wise to remember that what is good for our neighbors is usually good for us too.
Nicole Spencer is a guest blogger to AQ Online. She is Director of North American Affairs at the Council of the Americas.