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Remarks At the Fourth North American Forum

John D. Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Washington, DC
June 17, 2008

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DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Thank you, Bill. I’m delighted to be here this afternoon. I recognize friends at virtually every table here, so I won’t acknowledge each and every one of you. But I do want to thank Pedro Aspe and Peter Lougheed for their tremendous contributions to the North American relationship. 

And I want to add my voice to what I know has been the special recognition that others have accorded to Secretary Shultz – I can’t call you George Shultz just like that, Mr. Secretary. You’re Mr. Secretary to me. His statesmanship and his wisdom and his vision have made the world a better place. And his energy and judgment have made this forum an outstanding source of innovative thinking about North American cooperation. 

And I do remember vividly that when I was the Deputy National Security Advisor at the very end of the Reagan Administration, we went down together, I accompanied you, Mr. Secretary, to the inauguration of Carlos Salinas de Gortari as President, not knowing at the time that I would, soon thereafter, become Ambassador and have the opportunity to work so closely with Carla Hills and others, Pedro Aspe, Andres Rosenthal, on the construction of the North American Free Trade Agreement. 

Everyone here knows how vital this partnership is to Canada, Mexico, and the United States. It has given vast numbers of Canadians, Mexicans and Americans much better lives, and positioned our nations for lasting success in a evermore competitive world. We share -- we all share important goals for our common future. And these include increasing social and economic opportunity for our peoples, enhancing their safety, and building the most effective platform we can for competing in a dynamic and ever-integrating global economy. Having a close trilateral relationship isn’t just an advantage in getting this done; it is a necessity. 

By and large, our citizens know this. The dynamic North American community that exists today is their handiwork built by the interaction of our peoples, business, and civil societies. The strength of these interactions is evident in the nearly $1 trillion of annual trade among our countries, in the tens of millions of cars and trucks that cross our borders each year, and in the tens of thousands of students we exchange every year. Millions of grassroots-level exchanges power our relationship. They are what is at stake in its success. 

Everyone in this room has helped to ensure that our three nations’ relationship is flourishing. NAFTA was the biggest and the boldest step.  It has produced great results. Today, our governments have greater levels of trilateral coordination and cooperation than ever before. We are working together on energy security; environmental protection; food, health, and consumer product safety; border security; and emergency response capacity and management. Our leaders now meet regularly in a trilateral format in addition to their bilateral contacts. 

As remarkable as this is to those whose memories span the last half century, we know that this is only the beginning. North America will continue to develop innovative and ever more effective ways to build a region that is safer, more prosperous, and capable of providing even greater opportunity to all its peoples. 

We will do this on many different tracks. The Merida Initiative is now before Congress – the Merida Initiative now before Congress is an important statement of the United States’ commitment to help address the corrosive threat of transnational crime. Similarly, the Security and Prosperity Partnership has provided a framework for concrete initiatives that likely would not have taken shape otherwise. Our governments increasingly understand the need to think regionally as we confront some of our biggest public policy challenges. 

Nonetheless, we should be on guard when public debate starts to define our national interests in very narrow or parochial terms. We are witnessing such a moment now. White collar, blue collar, east, south, north, and west, Americans feel anxiety as they contemplate a period of profound and accelerating change in the world. They are worried about what these changes will mean for their standards of living and for their children’s prospects in the future. 

These worries underscore the enormous leadership challenge we face in making clear that North American partnership is not part of the problem; it is unequivocally a source of the solution.  We need to better articulate a vision of our partnership that our publics readily understand to be in their interests. Voices outside of government, in particular, need to affirm the North American – that the North American partnership affirms or promotes the interests and aspirations of its stakeholders and strengthens our ability to meet regional and global challenges.

By working together, I believe that we can meet this challenge. The fundamentals of our partnership are sound. Its story is compelling. The North American community has made our peoples richer, our countries safer, and our region more competitive. There is much left to do to ease our citizens’ anxieties, but we must make clear that in a world that rewards integration and openness, the surest path to greater prosperity, security, and sovereignty is the North American partnership. 

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

I’d be happy to take some questions or hear some comments, whatever suits the audience.

QUESTION: We’ve had quite a bit of discussion here about our borders and the increasing difficulty of getting across them. Maybe you could comment a little bit on the efforts being made to look at both the security and the porousness questions together so they work better.

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Right. I think the first point I would make in reply is that I think we’ve got to work on both of these issues, both the question of security on the one hand, and competitiveness on the other. And I think one of the ways that that is going to be accomplished is by making technology our friend. For example, we are working on and we will start issuing – in fact, I think we’ve started issuing this month -- a wallet – a license driver’s sized passport that is machine readable, can be read at a distance, in fact, for American citizens to use for land at border – land travel across the Mexican and the Canadian borders. So when that’s matched up with the proper machine readable equipment, you can process people through the border really quickly.

So I think technology is our friend if we’re prepared to make the kinds of investments and devote the kind of resources that are required to achieve it. This would be true, of course, for pre-screening of cargos, for crossing the borders. There’s always issues that need to be dealt with, but I think we’ve just got to put our minds to resolving those questions, such as having enough lanes at our border crossings so that we can actually facilitate some of these expeditious types of crossings. 

We need to invest more in crossings. If you think about it, some of the infrastructure that we have on our borders on both the north and south is very old, indeed. And the amount of time that it takes to get some of these initiatives approved has proven to be too long. I’m not sure that we thought as much 20 years ago when we worked on the NAFTA about how much expeditious crossing of the borders, for example, would affect the question of competitiveness. I thought – I think we’ve felt that the mere fact of proximity between our countries was going to be sufficient advantage enough to enhance our competitiveness, but it’s clear today that that is not sufficient. So I think we are going to have to, going forward, put our mind much more to those kinds of issues but without, of course, sacrificing the security requirements of having as good a possible handle on who is crossing our borders at any given moment in time.

Sir. Yes, Bob.

QUESTION: Let me just take the last answer as a point of departure. If you look at the cards that are needed to cross the two borders – I’ve just come back from looking at both -- there are about six cards, and the question is whether one would do better, not only from an efficiency standpoint, but also in projecting across the publics of all three countries that we’re part of North America. You need a SENTRI card from the South, a NEXUS card from the North, you need a FAST, you have an E-pass, the commercial vehicles have to go through all kinds of duplications in crossing the border from Canada. Of course, the worst part is that the trucks still can’t come from Mexico, or at least only about 135 out of 4.2 million can come.

So the first question is whether it’s possible to think North American again on the borders, at least for the purpose of identification for facilitating fast traffic; secondly, whether it’s possible to have a one-stop shop for creating and expanding fast lanes on both sides and how that might be done; and finally, whether – what lessons do you draw from the SPP experience in terms of what more is needed for our three countries to move ahead on this agenda, recognizing that perhaps not as much results have occurred from SPP as people originally hoped?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Right. I think, in a way, the answer to your last question is embedded in your first two, in a sense, Bob. I think that after 9/11 the focus was, understandably at first, on security. And that is – obviously continues to be a concern, but it cannot be the exclusive preoccupation.

You ask me is it possible to have a single card? I’m sure it’s physically and technically possible. Whether that, in fact, would be the best way to go I don’t know, but I think it’s an interesting idea. What I would say for sure is that these are issues that -- going forward, I believe we’re going to have to increase the level of attention and emphasis that we put on these issues. And I’ve given some thought, although I came in, you know, fairly late in the day here at State in the – basically, the last couple years of the Administration – as to what more could the State Department do to be supportive of facilitating border activities. 

We do have a border coordinator position. I think in the future, we’re going to – and this goes to your question of the one-stop shop. Is it possible to have a more – if not a one-stop shop, a somewhat more coordinated effort to dealing with the entire complex of issues that we face in conducting transactions across the border. But definitely, these are issues that require continued and probably intensified attention.

In the back. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Sir, I’m Perrin Beatty. I’m president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. In February of this year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce jointly issued a report on facilitating traffic across the border without undermining security. There were some 17 recommendations in there that were designed to be implementable within the next 18 months that would not require major redesign of the border. Are you aware of the report and of the recommendations on the --

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Only generally aware of it. You’d have to help me with what some of the recommendations were.

QUESTION: A number of them – a number of the recommendations deal with the type of areas that you were mentioning earlier. For example, with regard to smart cards and things that could be done there, but other aspects, staffing border points, to ensure that when trucks arrive at the border, there are inspectors that are required to be there, that trucks don’t have to wait for one to arrive, a number of other issues like that (inaudible).

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: I’m sure there must have been mention of having some larger secondary areas where you could part vehicular traffic without holding everything that’s coming behind it. 

QUESTION: That’s certainly an area where we want to see progress made as well, but I can perhaps leave you a copy of this --


QUESTION: -- that may be helpful in terms of highlighting some things that could be done in the short-term with a significant commercial aspect that could be realized quite quickly for business in the two countries.

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: One of the issues we discussed at the SPP also was the second bridge at the Detroit Windsor. It seems like that’s a bottleneck for, I think, something like 25 percent of all trade between the United States and Canada, and it’s only one bridge, which is definitely problematic.

Ms. Hills.

QUESTION: First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to be here. And asking you to look back on your earlier intelligence experience, some have thought that we could do a better job by moving our security examination and have perimeter security, and have a trilateral address of that. What are the chances of having training of trilateral teams to enhance our perimeter security?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: You mean not the borders – not the bilateral borders?

QUESTION: Well, you obviously need both. But to have real perimeter security around North America with trained Mexican, Canadian and U.S. teams that converse with each other, share intelligence, and understand – and have the same rules applicable --


QUESTION: -- so inward immigrants, wherever they come on the border, face the same requirements.

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Right. Well, I’m not sure that – I think that that represents a level of integration between our three countries and governments that we certainly didn’t contemplate back in 1990. And I’m not sure we’re yet ready for that. I mean, I think that perhaps the road is going to have to be traveled a bit farther before we get to that kind of level of security cooperation. 

Although I can certainly see merit in having enough cross-training and enough exchanges so that officials from each of the countries, whether it’s in the military or in other services, have an adequate -- a sufficient appreciation of what kind of security problems their counterparts face on their respective borders. I think that’s -- certainly would be important for us in terms of what, say, Mexico faces, understanding what Mexico faces with respect to the situation vis-à-vis Central America, where there are some considerable problems now in the security and the area of law and order and administration of justice. 

Perhaps – I know my time is running out. Maybe one last question from Ambassador Rosenthal.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador Negroponte. Just one quick question: During the past Mexican administration, negotiations began with the United States on setting up a pilot pre-clearance program at Cancun Airport, similar to the programs that the Canadians have with the United States. My understanding is that it was the U.S. side that eventually decided they did not want to proceed with this pilot program. And my question really is why, and if so, wouldn’t it be time to try to restart that negotiation?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: I – you know, Andres, I honestly don’t – I don’t know why, but I’d be happy to look into it and try to come to some view of my own – my personal view of my own as to what I saw to be the merits and the demerits of that. But I’d have to look into it and try to understand the circumstances.

But I just want to thank you very much for including me in your event today and, in fact, I’d like to stay behind and hear your summing up if I could. I really think it’s important and I know the Administration has devoted a lot of priority to the North America relationship, although that sometimes tends to be a little bit obscured by the high profile that the war on terror and the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan have. 

But if you actually look at the time and effort that’s been devoted to not only North America, but this hemisphere generally, I think the Administration has a very credible record that, hopefully, as the situation improves in Iraq and elsewhere, maybe that priority that we attach to the North American relationship will have an opportunity to shine a bit more brightly than it’s been able to do in the past several years. 

Thank you very much. (Applause.)


Released on June 17, 2008

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