April 29, 2013 – Effective economic and cultural integration is as beneficial as it is inevitable for Canada, Mexico and the United States to thrive in the current age of globalization, according to an international law expert at the University of Houston Law Center.
"We need to see borders not as barriers, but as avenues of opportunity," said Stephen Zamora, Leonard B. Rosenberg Professor of Law and director of the Center for U.S. and Mexican Law. "We need to see the advantages inherent in closer cooperation among the Canadian, Mexican and U.S. governments."
Zamora discussed "International Trade, NAFTA, Pipelines and the I-69 Corridor" Thursday as part of the Law Center's Legal Excellence speaker series.
"The phenomenon we call globalization – the massive movement of goods, services, ideas, money, and people – has dramatically undermined the ability of national governments to manage their economies and protect societies without significant collaboration with other governments," Zamora said. "National governments strain to deal with the social and political consequences of this."
Zamora pointed to the North American Free Trade Agreement as having played a key role in the integration process. Effective in 1994, NAFTA is an agreement signed by Canada, Mexico and the U.S., creating a trilateral trade bloc in North America.
"While not all sectors of society have benefited equally from the NAFTA partnership, it has proven to be a positive step in the development of North American relations," Zamora said. "Intra-regional trade between the NAFTA partners constitutes half of all trade by Canada, Mexico and the United States."
In addition, approximately 30 percent of the total international trade of the U.S. consists of goods and services traded with its NAFTA partners. Two-thirds of Canada and Mexico's trade is with the U.S.
"The reason for the trade expansion has to do with the integrated nature of manufacturing in our age of globalization," Zamora said. "Supply chains extend across borders, as companies take advantage of efficiencies and cost advantages. This is especially true in North America."
Zamora also noted obstacles to regional integration, including U.S. concerns over perceived threats to national security from organized crime in Mexico. Concentration on "border security," by constructing fences and employing 21,000 guards to police our southern border, is misplaced. In an age of globalization, fences do not provide effective barriers to criminal movements.
"The best way to protect the security of the United States is to invest in the security and stability of Mexico," Zamora said. "The U.S. government has begun to do this, in a very tentative way with funding to enhance Mexican security through the Mérida Initiative."
He emphasized the need to expand these efforts, however, through the creation of a trilateral regional development fund, with participation by Canada, Mexico and the United States. Such funding will help strengthen Mexico's physical and institutional infrastructure to assist in law enforcement. It will also enhance the productivity of Mexican labor, reducing the likelihood of Mexican migration to the United States due to economic need.
Bottom line, Zamora concluded, Canada, Mexico and the U.S. will benefit from closer social, cultural and institutional involvement.