North American leaders end summit with pact on import safety

Stephen Harper and his fellow North American leaders wrapped up their summit in Montebello, Que., on Tuesday with an agreement to block the import of unsafe goods, especially toys.

The leaders of Canada, the United States and Mexico ended a two-day summit in Quebec Tuesday with a pledge to crack down on unsafe goods flowing into North America, while working to make the two borders moreefficient and secure.

U.S. President George W. Bush , left, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, right, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in Montebello, Que., on Tuesday on the last day of their summit, have agreed to work together to protect consumers. ((Evan Vucci/Associated Press))

The move follows recent safety scares linked to Chinese-made products, includingunsafe food additives, toothpaste and toys.

"We agreed to work together on consumer protection. We have to identify and stop unsafe goods from entering our countries, especially those designed for our children," said Stephen Harper.

The Canadian prime minister, U.S. President George W. Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon spent more than an hour answering questions atthe summit's final news conference at the posh Fairmont Le Château Montebello, alongthe Ottawa River.

Security and trade issues dominated the summit as the prime minister and the two presidents met Tuesday with a council of corporate executives, who are pushing for broader co-ordination across North America, from regulatory standards to emergency planning.

"Their leaders provided us with important information on how we could exploit our partnership in the field of security and prosperity to strengthen our economics and to create good jobs here in North America," said Harper.

The fact that a meeting was heldwith the North American Competitiveness Council was a key complaint from critics of the summit, who are upset that their elected leaders are only listening to the corporate elite and refusing to hear from social activists, environmentalists and others.

Harper said the threeagreed to ensure that security measures imposed in the future do not hurt trade between the countries.

"We realize border security must not threaten the friendly relations that we have," said Harper.

Meetings key to prosperity: leaders

Thethree men alsodefended the annual meeting as crucial to the prosperity of the three countries, citing NAFTA with creating more jobs and wealth.

Calderon said the meeting has confirmed his belief that North America hasn't yet reached its full potential.

"Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have to act together not only to improve the lives of our people but also to prevent the fast integration process that we've seen in other parts of the world...Asia, Europe, specifically," said Calderon.

The leaders downplayed criticism that the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, which boosts co-operation in the areas of security, trade and public-health,will lead to a North American union, similar to the European Union.

"Look, we have an enormous commercial, trading relationship," said Harper, who said such criticism in Canada comes from opposition politicians. "It's important we get together for discussions."

Bush said the criticism isa longstandingand common political scare tactic — setting up a conspiracy theory and challenging others to prove it doesn't exist.

"Some like to frighten our fellow citizens into believing relations… are harmful," said Bush. "I just believe they are wrong… It's in our interest to work out common problems for the good of our people."

Bush also addressed Harper as "Stephen"on Tuesday,a change from a much-publicized 2006 news conference where he repeatedly called him "Steve."

Afghanistan, Arctic on agenda

The three leaders also covered a number of other issues during the closing news conference.

Bush praised Canada's role in Afghanistan, where more than 2,500 Canadian soldiers are serving. Harper on Monday told Bush that Canada would likely not continue in a combat role in the country past February 2009 without a consensus in Parliament.

"I believe Canada is doing a fabulous job in Afghanistan," said Bush. "Canada's contribution is more than combat. It's helping to build institutions."

Bush and Harper also acknowledged their difference of opinion on the sovereignty of the Northwest Passage — a claim disputed by numerous countries including the United States, Japan and the European Union.

Harper restated his position that Canada intends to strengthen its sovereignty in the region, while Bush repeated he believes the waterway is in international territory.

"There are differences," said Bush. "The U.S. doesn't question Canadian sovereignty over its Arctic islands and supports Canadian investment to exercise its sovereignty."

The leaders also pledged to work to find"practical solutions" to environmental challenges, including climate change and energy supplies.

Calderon leaves early

The closing news conference came earlier than expected so that Calderon could return to Mexico to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Dean, a massive storm that is pounding the Yucatan peninsula.

Calderon said he had received no word of deaths caused by Dean, but that he was waiting for word from more rural and isolated areas of Mexico.

No protesters showed up Tuesday outside the Château Montebello resort where the prime minister and presidents wrapped up their two-day meeting.

About 1,200demonstrators hadgathered at the site on Monday, protesting against the war in Iraq, human rights and closer economic ties within North America. One carried a banner that said, "Say No To Americanada."

In a joint statement issued Tuesday, the leaders agreed to:

  • Develop common protocols through the Canada-Mexico-United States Emergency Management Council to manage the movement of goods and people, including emergency responders, across borders during a natural or man-made emergency, such as a terrorist attack or outbreak of avian flu.
  • Advance multilateral trade liberalization through a successful conclusion to the World Trade Organization Doha Round of negotiations.
  • Strengthen co-operation on identifying and stopping unsafe food and products before they enter the three countries.
  • Look for ways to co-operate on national auto fuel efficiency standards and work together to develop clean energy technologies and resolve global warming.
  • Streamline regulations and make them compatible in order to enhance the flow of trade on the continent and eliminate redundant testing and certification requirements.
  • Better measure the scope of and improve the detection and deterrence of counterfeiting and piracy in North America. Expand public awareness of the importance of intellectual property rights
    in protecting North American economies and consumer health.
  • Develop a plan to respond to increasing pressures onAmerican, Mexican and Canadian competitiveness in the global markets.

With files from the Canadian Press