North American integration slides beyond probability

By Robert L. Bartley, El Financiero, June 11, 2006

México City, June 11th.- Integration is a short word. Yet, to have it written, embodying a multinational political, economic and cultural consensus, is a long and complex task. The transition from a manuscript to an action timetable requires a unique kind of statesmanship concocted with a grain of wizardry.

It took Europe about 40 years to reach its present status as a fully integrated region. Led by the late French President Charles De Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, the European economic integration process began moving on April, 1951.

It got off the ground with the implementation of the European Community for Coal and Steel (ECCS) as proposed by French ideologue Robert Schuman. Signed by West Germany, Belgium, France, Holland, Italy and Luxemburg, this treaty was the first step toward European economic integration.

Six years later, the six nations approved Jean Monnet’s proposal to create the Economic European Community. This organization set the stage for the establishment in 1991 of the European Union (EU).

European nations have come a long way. Except for new members from Eastern Europe, they look alike. The French and German economies are much larger than others, but their overall features are the same.

Unlike Canada, the United States and Mexico which represent two different worlds.

For many years in the past, the American Way of Life has sounded like magic to most Mexicans. It still does. A short distance away, The American Dream has been always so close and yet so far. The way things appear now, it may have turned into the impossible dream.

For a while, globalization was pitched as a mandatory shortcut to prosperity; it was dressed up as the answer to fulfill Mexico’'s yearnings for real social, economic and political betterment.

National and foreign champions of development hailed free trade as the groundwork for full-fledged integration in North America. A regional common market –it was assured—would bring Canada, the United States and Mexico closer together....

With the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in place, Mexico would shortly resemble its two associates up north....

At first glance, NAFTA was the initial stage of a far-reaching and long-lasting deal. However, 11 years after the trilateral trade accord became effective, its overall priorities seem about to hit the skids. A series of political, financial and economic events --occurred in the meantime—have sparked controversies that often jerked the United States and Mexico in opposite directions.

Regional integration proved delusory and fit only for professional daydreamers....

Within the framework of NAFTA, Mexico has failed to perform the job expected –and even taken for granted-- from a well-equipped and resourceful associate. Cash was not the matter. Hard currency has flowed hugely into the nation’s treasury, according to the figures released quarterly by Mexico’s Federal Reserve Bank (BdeM).

A recent report issued by the Mexican Fed indicates that during the present administration, oil revenues amounted to 280.3 billion dollars. That is, a 54% increase over the same period in the Zedillo government (1994-2000). Last year, Pemex, the state-owned oil monopoly, posted all-time high profits amounting to 48 billion dollars well above results presented oil giants like Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron –Texaco.

As oil prices keep booming and cash keeps rolling in. The report also notes, however, that up to 80% of the fiscal surpluss has been used for mounting and –the BdeM’s chairman Guillermo Ortiz contends— wasteful government operating expenses.

No wonder Halliburton is ready to gain a foothold in Pemex and manage the corporation's revenues soundly. The prospects of Halliburton getting its act together inside Pemex should help U.S. and Mexican money changers appreciate the rewards of dealing with a country like Mexico....

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