The Security and Prosperity Partnership: An Overview

By Rozental, Andres | International Journal, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

The Security and Prosperity Partnership: An Overview


Rozental, Andres, International Journal


The tragic events of 11 September 2001 marked a watershed in the lives of most of the world, but they affected most especially those in the United States and its two land neighbours, Canada and Mexico. For the first time in history, America was gravely threatened from within by terrorists who managed to assimilate into its open society and attack buildings in its most symbolic cities. Not since Pearl Harbor-which was geographically, if not emotionally, distant from the North American mainland-had there been an attack on the United States by enemies from abroad. Unlike World War II, the wilful destruction of iconic buildings and the loss of innocent lives in New York and the nation's capital brought home the very real threat posed by individuals and groups bent on challenging the economic and political might of the world's only remaining superpower. After several centuries of fighting many battles far from its borders, the United States found itself in a war in the very kitchen of the American home.

One of the first decisions taken by the US administration in the hours following the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings and the attack on the Pentagon was to seal off the country's land, air, and seaports, which are the lifeline of billions of dollars in commerce and the route of millions of people who enter and leave the US on any given day. The result was total chaos, particularly along the two land borders that formally divide the US from its North American neighbours. Individual lives were disrupted to an unimaginable degree, while the flow of goods and services, on which most of North American industry depends, came to a virtual standstill. All of a sudden the open border that characterized the boundary between the US and Canada slammed shut, while the border with Mexico-already much more controlled-became a logistical nightmare for the millions of bona fide travelers, importers, and exporters who rely on a smooth and efficient border for their economic and social intercourse.

Who can forget the images of miles and miles of tractor-trailers backed up on the Canadian side of the Ambassador Bridge, or of the lonely, unmanned crossing that only had a traffic cone to signal that it was closed for the day? Traffic jams at Otay Mesa or Nuevo Laredo stretched as far as the eye could see, while hapless immigration and customs officials struggled with implementing the emergency closure order that came from Washington. For at least 72 hours, the entire machinery of commerce set up under the North American free trade agreement came to a screeching halt. Factories in all three countries that relied on just-in-time deliveries for their production were forced to suspend activities, while trucks, trains, and cars spent hours and sometimes days waiting to clear the border and resume their itineraries. In short, the terrorists, whose primary objective was to destroy landmarks in New York and Washington, ended up devastating the very nervous system of North America.

A few weeks after 9/11, the foreign ministers of Mexico and Canada met at the Mexican embassy in Washington to discuss the crisis that had so severely affected the economies of their countries. This was the first occasion since the entry into force of NAFTA that prompted the US's two neighbours to schedule an urgent political consultation to decide what individual and joint steps could be taken to mitigate the impact of the actions at the borders. They also wanted to ensure that the basic lifelines among the three trade partners be kept open until a negotiated agreement with the US was reached on measures that would significantly improve border security and give the authorities in Washington the necessary confidence to gradually resume operations at the dozens of land and bridge crossings on their northern and southern borders. Unfortunately, it wasn't possible at the time to come up with a bilateral strategy between Canada and Mexico on this issue.

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