This doesn't mean I think there's no issue. The current crew in Ottawa is happy to walk in lockstep with the US, and that can only be dangerous - no matter who is in Washington. We need to protect the interests of the people, as opposed to the interests of the rich and powerful. That's always the case, and it's no less true about SPP than it is about anything else.
On the other hand, a highway connecting Mexico to the US and Canada - which, by the way, already exists - does not threaten Canadian sovereignty.
SPP, like most corporate schemes, is bad for labour, bad for the environment, and bad for democracy. There are good reasons to oppose it without envisioning the loonie being replaced by the greenback and a monument to George Bush being erected in Ottawa.
I recently read a good story on SPP on AlterNet. The authors, Manuel Pérez Rocha and Sarah Anderson, pull together both strands of thought, dispelling US wingnut fantasies and affirming Canadian progressive concerns.
This month, President Bush will host the leaders of Canada and Mexico to advance the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a project Lou Dobbs has predicted will "end the United States as we know it."
Lou sounds downright blasé, though, compared to all the online ranting and raving on this subject. And while there are plenty of reasons for progressives to be up in arms over this effort to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement, the xenophobes have clearly cornered the market.
In their paranoid fantasies, the three North American executive powers are secretly plotting to surrender everything they hold dear about the good ol' USA. The U.S. borders, the flag, and even the almighty American dollar would disappear as the country is submerged into a North American Union with Mexico and Canada.
Check out amerocurrency.com, whose creators are convinced that while the SPP hasn't replaced the dollar with a North American currency just yet, the switch is right around the corner. To raise alarm bells, these folks have gone ahead and designed our future money themselves. The cost of purchasing uno "amero": $10.
From the always imaginative John Birch Society, you can order a poster featuring our future North American Union flag, a collage of the three countries' current emblems with -- gasp! -- the socialist maple leaf dead center.
After an intro image of North America bursting into flames, Stopspp.com offers screeds by anti-immigrant Minutemen about how the SPP will fling open U.S. borders to terrorists, drunken Mexican truck drivers and tens of millions more illegal immigrants who will infect us all with tuberculosis.
The video "North American Union and Vchip Truth" cranks things up another notch. Viewed more than 4.8 million times, it presents the SPP as a big step towards a single world government, with David Rockefeller preventing any resistance by implanting us all with Vchips. We can only hope this is satire, but the 10,000 comments by Youtubers suggest that many viewers aren't getting the joke.
All this would be simply entertaining if it weren't for the fact that the SPP truly is a dangerous initiative -- but not for the reasons cited by the xenophobes.
Launched in 2005, the SPP is an ongoing process of negotiation between the three countries' executive powers to change regulations and other policies to boost business and support the U.S. War on Terror. Twenty SPP working groups on everything from financial services to intelligence cooperation hammer out details in between the annual presidential summits.
In Mexico and Canada, progressive activists are already highly mobilized on the SPP. And while the far right has dominated the U.S. discourse, this is beginning to change. A half dozen U.S. progressive groups organized a strategy meeting in Washington, D.C., in March with activists and legislators from all three countries. Together with local activists in New Orleans, the site of the fourth SPP Presidential Summit on April 21-22, they are planning a Peoples Summit and a trinational meeting of energy sector workers.
Here are 10 reasons why progressives are paying attention to the SPP:
1. No democratic oversight. Although elected officials in all three countries have demanded transparency, they continue to be excluded from the SPP Presidential summits, ministerial meetings and working groups. Legislators have formed a trinational task force to stop the SPP.
2. Secrecy. The SPP excludes civil society organizations and the media from all meetings. During a peaceful demonstration outside the last summit in Canada, the government sent in undercover agents posing as rock-wielding protesters. After being confronted with video footage, authorities fessed up to the scheme.
3. Only big business has a voice. Wal-Mart, Lockheed Martin, and 28 other corporations and business associations are part of an official SPP advisory body called the North American Competitive Council. The council made 51 proposals to SPP negotiators in February 2007 on issues as varied as taxation and patent rights. Six months later, they boasted that "all three of our governments have committed themselves to taking action on many of our recommendations."
4. Expansion of failed NAFTA policies. Even though the lifting of trade and investment barriers under the trade pact has failed to create good jobs, the SPP is further chipping away at remaining economic regulations. For example, at the last SPP summit, the three leaders announced (PDF) a weakening of NAFTA's "rules of origin" to allow products with a lower level of national content to receive preferential tariff treatment. This will undermine domestic industries by making trade in products from third countries like China even more profitable.
5. Privatization. SPP agreements announced thus far show a clear bias in favor of an expanded role for corporations. Two examples: 1) a North American Plan for Avian and Pandemic Influenza intended as a model for private sector and military involvement in emergency management and preparedness and 2) a Trilateral Agreement for Cooperation in Energy, Science and Technology that reflects the NACC's recommendations (PDF) to promote energy privatization in Mexico, where there has been strong resistance to opening up to U.S. oil companies.
6. Energy grab. Progressive activists in Canada and Mexico are particularly concerned about the likelihood that the U.S. government will use the SPP negotiations to push for greater control over its neighbors' resources, under the guise of a "North American integrated energy market." Common Frontiers, the Council of Canadians, and other groups point to an SPP workshop that envisioned a fivefold increase in environmentally destructive oil production from tar sands, with most of the increase to be exported to the United States.
7. Pipeline proliferation. The Sierra Club and others have raised alarm bells about the SPP's Transportation Working Group, whose mandate includes facilitating "multimodal corridors" that could include massive water and oil pipelines, with serious costs to the environment and communities. The Alliance for Democracy is calling for public hearings on the issue.
8. More border baloney. The SPP is focusing on facilitating transit of "legitimate people" and expanding border surveillance infrastructure, rather than addressing the root causes of migration or the rights of undocumented workers. There are also worrisome implications for civil liberties, as Mexico and Canada have agreed to share vast amounts of information with the U.S. government, including the fingerprints of refugees and asylum seekers.
9. Militarization. Mexico and Canada are enlisting in the U.S. War on Terror by creating a North American security perimeter and joining forces against not only external but also "internal threats." Some fear a U.S. multibillion-dollar military aid package for Mexico, supposedly to combat drug cartels, may also end up being used to suppress political dissidence and immigration flows.
10. Polarization. The zany anti-SPP xenophobes may be amusing at times, but their hysteria shows how government secrecy and exclusion can fan the flames of a racist movement and push us further away from any rational response to migration.
Having the leaders of our three deeply interconnected nations getting together to talk is a positive thing. The problem is with what's on the agenda -- and what's not. Rather than a misguided NAFTA expansion, they should be addressing people's real needs and planning a sustainable future.
See AlterNet for the story with linkage.