As social activists, we usually have our eyes on the laws that are proposed, passed, reformed or defeated in our respective legislatures.
What the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) reveals is that government executives in North America are willing to cooperate to avoid legislative and public challenge. What this means is that democratic debate and decision-making are giving way to privileged corporate access and new rules that undermine national sovereignty and human rights. Since the fight over NAFTA was such a "bruising battle," as one U.S. official called it, there was no appetite for another fight with civil society, so the North American integration agenda went underground.
The "big idea" of negotiations leading to a broader trade and investment treaty has fallen out of favour. Rather, in the context of widespread opposition within civil society and among progressive political parties, proponents of ongoing liberalization have been promoting something called "deeper integration" across North America.
Some define deep integration as coordinated actions by governments intended to eliminate regulations and open up service markets to foreign competition. Others simply call it "NAFTA-plus."
The general goal of the SPP is to increase cooperation on economic and security issues without changing a single law.
The SPP is not a signed treaty, and it has never been brought before the legislatures of North America for discussion and review. It is driven by the executive levels of government in consultation with the business community, but excludes the legislatures and parliamentary oversight. CEOs, however, have unfettered access to this process.
The SPP agenda is meant to impose neo-liberal reforms that will diminish environmental regulations, speed up food safety and drug approvals, loosen occupational health and safety requirements and facilitate the rapid production, export and consumption of energy resources. Regulatory reform is also intended to impose corporate-defined benchmarks as "best government practices" for the provision of public services.
The SPP is about increasing corporate power and ongoing deregulation. However, the current project of regulatory reform also aims to impose a new layer of regulations on workers, citizens and residents of North America, framed with an "anti-terrorism" justification. In this sense, then, deep integration is also about re-regulation and a much stronger role for the state.
As U.S. security interests drive the agenda and police databases are shared between governments, the judicial branch of government is also under siege.
These days, it is police accusation rather than court resolution that is used to assess the level of "risk" posed by individuals. Everyone is a potential threat.
Here are some examples of how the SPP is playing out:
· There are now 23 integrated border enforcement teams across the country, in which Canadian and U.S. law enforcement, immigration and border services work together and share intelligence on a daily basis. Canada now has a no-fly list that has been condemned by privacy commissioners nationwide over its approximately 1 million invasions of privacy, increased racial profiling, arbitrary restrictions on mobility rights and the threat to their livelihood.
· With the regulatory cooperation agreement, regulations will now be set by international private sector standards. For example, in May it was announced that Canada would lower its standards on pesticide use to match U.S. regulations. Canada's limits are stricter for 40 per cent of the residues it regulates. These limits are seen as "trade irritants," even though they're higher than Europe's.
· The SPP Oil Sands Experts Group has supported a fivefold increase in the production and export of raw bitumen to the United States in a very short period of time and has pushed for a reduction in the time required for regulatory approval and permitting.
The great tragedy of this new cooperative dynamic between Canada, the United States and Mexico is that it does nothing to address the most pressing issues of our day, such as confronting climate change, ensuring public health care for all, ending economic insecrity and creating a just world order.
So much for security and prosperity. Is this what plutocracy looks like?
Teresa Healy is senior researcher at the Canadian Labour Congress working on issues of social and economic policy.