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NAU Corridor Propaganda: Fears of Canada-Mexico superhighway driving U.S. critics loco

CanWest News Service / Ottawa Citizen | February 24, 2007
Don Butler

This is a fairly standard North American Union propaganda piece. It begins ostensibly as an attack on critics of the so-called Security & Prosperity Partnership (SPP) of North America and trans-continental highway projects and labels as cooks those who are concerned about a NAFTA Highway "urban myth" and then spends the majority of the article describing the myriad of projects already underway that mirror the nefarious superhighway project.

The author has built this article around an illusory semantic argument that simply does not hold up. It doesn't matter what you call it - there is an effort to create cross-national transportation corridors. Nor does it matter if a giant 10 lane highway is constructed or if existing infrastructure is modified for the purpose of creating an international trade corridor as the author seems to contend.

These corridors will require an international, North American governing body to oversee their construction/modification and regulate their use. This body will then be well-poised to become a North American Union governing body. It doesn't matter its labeled the NAFTA Superhighway or the body is the SPP or named something other equally inocuous sounding, the result will be the same: An economic union that will supercede the individual participating nations. We have seen this before in the gradual development of the E.U. and one would have to be blind not to see the same sort of tactics being used on this continent.

OTTAWA - Are North American governments secretly conspiring to build a "NAFTA superhighway," four football fields wide, from Mexico to Canada, to bypass regulatory controls and whisk goods swiftly to market?

If you believe some right-wing websites in the United States, it's all but a fait accompli. They insist a gargantuan project is in the works that will carve a 365-metre-wide swath through the continent's heart, with 10 traffic lanes, rail lines for freight and passenger trains, fibre-optic cable lines and pipelines carrying oil, gas and water.

Conservative commentators Pat Buchanan and Phyllis Schlafly, and websites such as WorldNetDaily, link the supposed superhighway to the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a series of agreements being negotiated among the United States, Canada and Mexico. They fear the SPP will lead to a North American union similar to the European Union, with a resulting loss of American sovereignty.

If you've never heard of the NAFTA superhighway, it may be because no such plan actually exists. The whole idea, one American official recently told a congressional committee, is an "urban myth."

But some remain unconvinced, in part because the largely secretive SPP process has created an information void that provides oxygen for conspiracy theorists.

Most SPP work is being done by 19 working groups that meet behind closed doors. The project only surfaces publicly when politicians from the three countries gather for periodic updates, like Friday's SPP ministerial meetings in Ottawa.

So far, anxiety about the purported NAFTA superhighway has been confined to the United States. Activists in Canada, by and large, don't quite know what to make of it, though the Sierra Club has expressed concern that NAFTA super-corridors could be used to pipe Canadian water to American markets.

Even the Council of Canadians, never shy about expressing alarm about anything that furthers "deep integration" with the U.S., declined comment. "We're trying to figure out what's going on, like everyone else," says spokesman Stewart Trew.

In the U.S, though, the furor over the NAFTA superhighway is so intense that the American government's Security and Prosperity Partnership website has posted a denial under the heading, "SPP Myths vs. Facts."

Those who swear that a NAFTA superhighway is in the works cite two main pieces of evidence.

One is the Trans-Texas Corridor, a proposed statewide network of transportation routes, each of which could include six automobile lanes, four truck lanes, freight and commuter rail lines, and infrastructure for utilities. It would take up to 50 years to fully build.

The other is the existence of North America's SuperCorridor Coalition (NASCO), a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop "the world's first international, integrated and secure multi-modal transportation system."

NASCO, whose members include companies and governments in the United States, Mexico and Canada - including the city of Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba - promotes and lobbies for what's known as the "international mid-continent trade and transportation corridor." It says the corridor connects 71 million people and supports $1 trillion US in total commerce between the three nations.

The 4,000-kilometre corridor runs from the Pacific port cities of Lazaro Cardenas and Manzanillo in Mexico to Manitoba, with a major offshoot to the Ambassador Bridge border crossing between Detroit and Windsor.

In the U.S., the corridor tracks interstate highways 35, 29 and 94.

As it happens, the first leg of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor would run parallel to Interstate 35, leading critics to allege that the massive Texas project is a prototype for the coming NAFTA superhighway.

Allegations like that exasperate Tiffany Melvin, NASCO's executive director. The Texas plan, which NASCO supports, is a response to growing highway congestion in that state, she says. "There's no plan - I cannot emphasize this enough - to extend this to other states," Melvin insists.

She blames any misperception on fear-mongering by people who have strung together local highway projects to "make it appear to be some evil plot that has been kept secret from the public."

If there's any such secret plan, it's news to Andy Horosko, Manitoba's deputy minister of transportation and a member of NASCO's board.

"When we talk about the super-corridor, we're basically talking about how do we make best efforts in terms of the existing infrastructure," he says. "We're not part of any super-plan that's going to have this four-football-field-wide corridor with no regulatory controls on it."

Nor is NASCO linked to the Security and Prosperity Partnership, says Horosko, though one of the SPP's key transportation milestones is to establish "an intermodal corridor work plan" and test it in a pilot project.

"We certainly are aware of what they're doing," says Horosko. "Any time we see something that we think lines up well with SPP, we certainly try to make sure that the federal government is aware of what we're doing and can bring it to the SPP table."

But even assuming there's no secret plan to pave over a chunk of mid-America, recognition of the importance of trade and transportation corridors in expediting the movement of foreign and domestic goods is growing.

Stephen Blank, a business professor at Pace University in New York, says the mid-continent corridor is well positioned to become North America's main trade conduit, in part because its roads and rail lines already exist.

That doesn't mean upgrades aren't required, adds Blank. "Everywhere along our North American infrastructure system there's tremendous need now for maintenance, which has fallen way behind, and also for thinking about what we're going to build next. And none of that is realistically being done."

The mid-continent corridor is more of an entrepreneurial concept than a physical plan, Blank says. He credits NASCO for "driving the concept of north-south trade. For the first time, I think entrepreneurs have begun to realize there's business to be done up and down the corridor."

Yet the mid-continent corridor faces competition from other regions that are promoting their own trade and transportation corridors.

One is the Canamex Corridor Coalition, a joint project of Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Utah and Montana, which is pushing a trade and transportation corridor from Mexico to Calgary. Little of the needed infrastructure now exists, though.

As well, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies is championing a corridor called Atlantica, spanning the Maritime provinces, Newfoundland, southern Quebec and several New England states.

Supporters envisage the port of Halifax as Atlantica's gateway. From there, super-sized "train trucks" would haul Asian goods to the U.S. midwest. A parallel energy corridor would ship offshore oil and gas to American markets.

But none of these competitors are as far advanced as the mid-continent corridor, which NASCO has been promoting since its formation in 1994.

"This is really a success story," asserts Blank, who says the mid-continent corridor offers "one of the first examples of a sense of collaboration north-south among urban centres."

Manitoba has been using NASCO to forge closer links along the corridor, all in the name of opening doors for business, says Horosko.

"We've benefited a whole lot just from putting Manitoba on the map," he says. "We are certainly known along the corridor. We've got contacts in Mexico as a result of this participation."



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