WASHINGTON - Canada, the United States and Mexico should become a single trading space surrounded by a strong security barrier to ensure North America's prosperity, an independent task force says.
In a statement to be released today, the tri-national task force, which includes former Canadian deputy prime minister John Manley, said the plan should include a three-country border pass with biometric identifiers so people can move around easily.
A common external tariff on goods would erase regulatory differences and ease congestion at ports, said the statement, and more defence and police co-operation would increase safety.
There should also be a more efficient way to solve trade disputes under NAFTA to prevent expensive battles like those over softwood lumber and beef, said the brief report, released as leaders of the three countries prepare to meet next week in Texas.
"We propose a community based on the premise that each member benefits from its neighbour's success and is diminished by its problems," said the task force, also chaired by Pedro Aspe, former Mexican treasury secretary and former Massachusetts governor William Weld.
"The boundaries of the community would be defined by a common external tariff and an outer security perimeter. Within this area, the movement of people and products would be legal, orderly and safe."
The idea is not to create another European union with a huge bureaucracy, said the statement, but to develop more collaboration among three sovereign countries.
Among the recommendations:
Expand the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) to include maritime security.
Create a tri-national threat intelligence centre and jointly train officers from the three countries.
Develop a strategy to protect North American energy supplies and common conservation measures.
Establish a North American investment fund to help Mexico's economy.
Expand scholarship and exchange programs and a network for North American studies.
Make next week's three-country summit an annual event and establish a North American advisory council to monitor progress on decisions.
Many of the sweeping suggestions about closer collaboration will be a hard sell at next week's meeting between President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Paul Martin and Mexico's Vicente Fox.
The agenda is focused on security, environment and public health issues.
Still, Fox has suggested they work on expanding NAFTA and Martin is particularly interested in finding a way to solve trade problems before they end up as legal battles.