The third annual meeting of President Bush, Prime Minister Harper and Mexican President Calderón on the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) came to a close yesterday in Montebello, Qué. Launched in 2005, the SPP process is designed to facilitate discussion on future economic arrangements for the creation of a single North American market for goods and services and shared strategies for securitizing the continent against potential terrorist attacks.

It is a unique process in that the negotiations falling under its auspices occur at the bureaucratic level, rather than amongst traditional diplomats, and are informed by active consultation from the private sector. The exclusive involvement of big business in the SPP has come under fire by those who claim that access to on-going discussions should be open to representatives of consumers and workers as well as environmental advocates. The image of deeper integration by stealth has gained some traction because of this closed process and was certainly the flag being waved by the protestors of this year's meeting.

The emphasis continues to be on co-ordination and consultation, rather than a new "big bang" visionary move forward in terms of North American integration. As expected, an announcement on an integrated strategy to deal with pandemic diseases was made in Montebello. A trilateral co-operation framework with an aim to enhancing and streamlining regulatory processes on the continent (originally slated to be developed by 2007) was also finalized. Earlier speculation surrounding the possibility of an additional announcement about a new arrangement for American financial support for domestic Mexican drug enforcement efforts became increasingly muted in the days leading up to the summit.

Media coverage leading up to Montebello had been sparse, indicating that there is no real interest at the popular level in the SPP being infused with grand objectives of any kind. In fact, the invitation to Calderón from Harper to stay overnight at his cottage received almost more attention in the Canadian media than the prospective items to be discussed by the three leaders. Certainly Harper and Calderón have become good friends, a connection that has expanded both leaders' perspectives. Calderón took an active role in the so-called outreach group of the G8. Harper in turn has reached out to the Americas, as witnessed by his recent trip to the region.

Beyond the slumber party story, the one common theme appearing in Canadian and U.S. commentary is the fear of a loss of sovereignty. In the U.S., protectionist attitudes are front and centre, ranging from the SPP's condemnation by state legislatures to its position as a target for CNN's Lou Dobbs' populist rhetoric, earning the distinction of potentially causing the "end (of) the United States as we know it." In Canada, cross-country protests planned by the left-nationalist Council of Canadians were designed to highlight the danger the SPP apparently poses to national energy security and control over water resources. While the protests received attention on Monday, the lack of protests on Tuesday and the overall small number of protestors compared to those at other international summits, like APEC or the G8, reinforces the sense that the public's integration malaise is hardly overwhelming.

For Mexico and Canada, one of the key -but largely unaddressed-issues remains the weighting of "Security" over "Prosperity" concerns within the partnership. Policy harmonization to ensure "business as usual" across the two borders has become increasingly slow with the Department of Homeland Security occupying prime position in policy-making under the Bush Administration. Despite the pursuit of smart borders, with closer co-operation between intelligence/security officials, there is as much societal divergence as policy convergence, a fact reflected in the inability to move ahead with Canada-U.S. land border pre-clearance measures. The incentives to migrate from rural Mexico still persist. And the nature of Canadian multiculturalism remains at variance with the US model.

Extensive hurricane damage to the Yucatan Peninsula caused the early departure of Calderón yesterday. Before leaving, the other big question-whether the Three Amigos would focus on external sources of competition-was answered with the announcement of the intent of the three countries to work together to block the import of unsafe food and products. The attention is on China, with recent alarms having been set off by the importation of defective Chinese goods into the North American market. Ultimately, however, this external focus only deflects attention away from the meeting's minimal results. At odds with both the hopes of advocates of a North America union and the fears of their opponents, in all likelihood the neighbours will have to wait and see if a changing of the U.S. presidential guard will result in a more creative and equitable emphasis on improving cross-border trade and security measures.

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