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North American summit addresses trade, safety

President Bush, at a North American summit on Tuesday, offered U.S. assistance and expressed his concern for the citizens of Mexico and elsewhere whose lives were affected by Hurricane Dean.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush, at a North American summit on Tuesday, offered U.S. assistance and expressed his concern for the citizens of Mexico and elsewhere whose lives were affected by Hurricane Dean.

“We stand ready to help,” said Bush, standing alongside Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “The American people care a lot about the human condition in our neighborhood and when we see human suffering we want to do what we can.”

Security and trade issues dominated talks among the North American leaders who met at a posh chateau along the Ottawa River. The three leaders began talks Tuesday with a council of corporate executives, who are pushing for broader coordination across North America, from regulatory standards to emergency planning.

The leaders brushed off reports on the Internet and elsewhere that they were secretly plotting a North American Union — something akin to the European Union — that would blur each country’s national identity.

“You know, there are some who would like to frighten our fellow citizens into believing that relations between us are harmful for our respective peoples,” Bush said. “I just believe they’re wrong.”

Harper said that rules governing the contents of jelly beans are different in Canada and the United States. “Is the sovereignty of Canada going to fall apart if we standardize the jelly bean?” Harper said. “You know, I don’t think so.”

Hurricane menaces summit
Overshadowing the two-day event was the menacing Hurricane Dean. The summit schedule was rearranged to accommodate Calderon, who was to head home early to deal with the aftermath of Dean.

Hurricane Dean slammed into the Caribbean coast of Mexico on Tuesday as a roaring Category 5 hurricane, the most intense Atlantic storm to make landfall in two decades. It lashed ancient Mayan ruins and headed for the modern oil installations of the Yucatan Peninsula, but it made landfall in a sparsely populated coastline that had mostly been evacuated and skirted most of the major tourist resorts.

“I have a great deal of concern for the housing and the lack of services in that general area for the indigenous people there and that will be the main area of concern for us,” Calderon said.

Among the issues getting heavy attention here, Bush and his counterparts want to make their borders safer without impeding trade and tourism.

“We agreed that border security measures, critical as they are, cannot threaten the bonds of friendship or commerce between us,” Harper said.

Arctic a topics of discussion
There are plenty of neighborhood disputes, however, ranging on issues as varied as Arctic waterways and passport policies to the war in Afghanistan. But the summit ended on an even keel with few announcements.

One area of dispute between the United States and Canada involves the Northwest Passage through the Arctic. In his meeting with Bush, Harper asserted Canada’s claim to the passage.

The race to secure subsurface rights to the Arctic seabed heated up when Russia recently sent two small submarines to plant a tiny national flag under the North Pole.

The United States and Norway also have competing claims in the vast Arctic region where a U.S. study suggests as much as 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas could be hidden. Harper has announced plans for an army training center and a deep water port.

Harper said the U.S. and Canada have been able to manage their differences over the years, and the Northwest Passage is no exception.

Bush said: “There are differences on the Northwest Passage. We believe it’s a international passageway. Having said that, the United States does not question Canadian sovereignty over its Arctic islands and the United States supports Canadian investments that have been made to exercise it’s sovereignty.”

Afghanistan point of contention
Both Bush and Harper sidestepped a question about whether Canada should continue its mission in Afghanistan. Canada has 2,500 troops there, and Harper has said the mission will not be extended beyond 2009 without a consensus in Parliament.

Bush thanked Canada for its contribution of troops as well as for its help in building institutions to foster democracy.

“The contribution has been vast and it has been robust, and this government, along with this parliament, will make decisions about what’s best for the Canadian people and the people of Afghanistan,” Bush said.

Harper said he thought that Canada’s presence has “made a real difference,” but that the Parliament will make its decision about whether it wants to prolong the mission.

Agreements on some fronts
In a joint statement, the leaders agreed to:

  • Develop common protocols through the Canada-Mexico-United States Emergency Management Council to manage the movement of goods and people, including emergency responders, across borders during a natural or man-made emergency, such as a terrorist attack or outbreak of avian flu.
  • Advance multilateral trade liberalization through a successful conclusion to the World Trade Organization Doha Round of negotiations.
  • Strengthen cooperation on identifying and stopping unsafe food and products before they enter the three countries.
  • Look for ways to cooperate on national auto fuel efficiency standards and work together on developing clean energy technologies and resolving global warming.
  • Streamline regulations and make them compatible to enhance the flow of trade on the continent and eliminate redundant testing and certification requirements.
  • Better measure the scope of and improve the detection and deterrence of counterfeiting and piracy in North America. Expand public awareness of the importance of intellectual property rights in protecting North American economies and consumer health.
  • Develop a plan to respond to increasing pressures on the U.S., Mexican and Canada competitiveness in the global markets.