Mexican President Vicente Fox, left, U.S. President George W. Bush, centre, and Prime Minister Paul Martin walk into a news conference in Waco, Texas. (AP photo)

Prime Minister Paul Martin has signed a pact with the presidents of the United States and Mexico to boost co-operation on security, trade and public-health issues.

The agreement, forged as Martin met with U.S. President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox in Texas on Wednesday morning, will see the three countries increase their border security, and integrate their approaches to cargo inspection and maritime and aviation safety.

The Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America agreement also aims to make their markets more competitive with the European Union and China by:

  • Standardizing some business regulations.
  • Making it easier for business people to cross borders.

The deal, meant to complement pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, calls for a continental strategy to block "threats to public health and the food and agriculture system."

"We face new opportunities but we also face new challenges, and this requires a renewed partnership – [a] stronger, more dynamic one that is focused on the future," Martin said at a news conference after the so-called "Three Amigos Summit" at a university in Waco, Tex.

"We are determined to forge the next generation of our continent's success. That's our destination. The security and prosperity partnership that we are launching today is the road map to getting there."

Leaders play down recent disputes

Relations between the United States and the other two countries have been strained in recent years. Irritants have included the U.S. decision to close its border to Canadian cattle in 2003; the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq the same year, which neither Canada nor Mexico backed; and Canada's recent decision not to participate in the U.S. missile-defence shield, which reportedly left Bush furious.

However, all three leaders appeared friendly at Wednesday's news conference and dismissed any talk of tensions among them.

"I'm amazed that we don't have more, whatever you call, 'sharp' disagreements" because the three countries are so interconnected, said Bush.

He referred to Martin as "Paul" after the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since the missile-defence decision, hinting at a friendlier bond than he had with former prime minister Jean Chrétien.

"I think the relationship is very strong and very positive," Bush said. "Just because somebody doesn't agree with our policies doesn't mean we can't have very positive relationships."

Martin said "the file is closed" on ballistic missile defence, but took pains to highlight that Canada was co-operating with the United States on other military efforts.

"The defence of North America is not only going to take place in North America. Canada is playing an increasing role – as an example, in Afghanistan – and that's also part of the defence of North America."

Pact doesn't include softwood, beef issues: reports

Reports indicate that the new agreement doesn't resolve the more contentious issues between the countries such as the U.S. ban on Canadian beef and the tariff dispute over Canadian softwood lumber.

Officials from the three countries are to work out details of the agreement and report back within 90 days.

After the news conference, Martin and Fox accompanied Bush to the U.S. president's ranch in nearby Crawford for a lunch and tour.