Canada, the United States and Mexico: the development of trilateralism

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Stephen J. Randall


La decisión que tomó el gobierno conservador del Primer Ministro de Canadá, Brian Mulroney, de participar en las negociaciones trilaterales sobre un Acuerdo de Libre Comercio entre Canadá, México y Estados Unidos se tiene que entender en términos de su contexto histórico. Los parámetros clave de este contexto son: la evolución histórica de las relaciones entre Canadá y Estados Unidos; la orientación de la política económica exterior estadounidense; la relación bilateral que había existido entre México y Estados Unidos; el creciente interés en América Latina, tanto por parte de la comunidad oficial como de la comunidad empresarial, y finalmente, los acontecimientos en Asia y Europa. Este trabajo trata el contexto global antes de emprender una discusión más específica sobre la decisión en 1990 de participar en lo que había empezado como negociaciones bilaterales entre México y Estados U nidos. Es importante enfatizar que el trabajo no pretende ser un análisis de los costos y beneficios del Acuerdo de Libre Comercio entre Canadá y Estados Unidos, o de los costos y beneficios de un posible acuerdo trilateral. Más bien es un análisis de la dinámica histórica, económica, política y psicológica que forma el contexto dentro del cual se han tomado las decisiones y que nos ayuda a entenderlas. ABSTRACTThe 1990 decision by the Conservative Government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to participate in trilateral talks on a free trade agreement encompassing Canada, Mexico and the United States must be understood within a larger historical context. The critical parameters of that context include: the historical evolution of Canada-United States relations; the orientation of United States foreign economic policy; the traditional bilateral relationship between Mexico and the United States; the increased official and business community Canadian interest in Latin America; and, finally, developments in Europe and Asia. This paper addresses that larger framework before turning to the specific debate surrounding the 1990 decision to participate in what had begun as United States-Mexico bilateral negotiations. It is important to stress that this paper is not intended as an analysis of the cost/benefits of either the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) or the potential trilateral agreement, but rather of the historical, economic, political and psychological dynamic within which decisions have been taken and which help to understand those decisions.

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Randall, S. J. (2017). Canada, the United States and Mexico: the development of trilateralism. Frontera Norte, 3(6).


Michael Hart, A North American Free Trade Agreement: The Strategic Implications for Canada (Halifax: Institute for Research on Public Policy, 1990).

R. Craig Brown, Canada's National Policy, 1883-1900: A Study in Canadian American Relations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964); John Dales, The Protective Tariff in Canada's Development (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966); "The National Policy, 1879-1979," Journal of Canadian Studies, 14 (Autumn. 1979).

U.S. economic foreign policy is effectively documented in, among many other studies, Alfred Eckes, Jr., The United States and the Global Struggle for Minerals (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979); and S. J. Randall, United States Foreign Oil Policy, 1919-1948: For Profit and Security (Montreal: McGlll-Queen's University Press, 1985).

For the 1911 debate see: Paul Stgeven, ed.. The 1911 Election: A Study in Canadian Politics (Toronto, 1970); L. Ethan Ellis, Reciprocity 1911: A Study in Canadian-American Relations (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1939). On Canadian policies see C.P. Stacey, Canada and the Age of Conflict: A History of Canadian External Policies, vol. 1: 1867-1921 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977).

C.P. Stacey, Canada and the Age of Conflict, vol. 2: 1921-1948, The Mackenzie King Era (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981); on the American side see Robert Dallek, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Foreign Policy.

Robert Cuff and J. L. Granatstein, Ties that Bind: Canadian-American Relations in Wartime from the Great War to the Cold War (Toronto, 1977).

U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States. 1948, (Washington, 1974), IV, 419-24.

Ronald J. Wonnacott, "U.S. Hub and Spoke Bilaterals and the Multilateral Trading System", C.D. Howe Commentary (Toronto: C.D. Howe Institute, October 1990).

Lorraine Eden and Maureen Appel Molot, "The View from the Spokes: Canada and Mexico Face the US", in S.J. Randall, H. Konrad and S. Silverman, The Challenge of North American Integration (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, in press).

Steven Reitsma, "Canada, United States, Mexico: Trade Policy Options", Canadian Business Review (Winter, 1990), p. 18.

Reitsma, op. cit. provides a thorough overview of the Hart and Lipsey Interpretations. See as well, Lipsey, "The Case for Trilateralism", in Steven Globerman, ed., Continental Accord: North American Economic Integration (Vancouver: Fraser Institute, 1991).

Christian Allard, "Mexico For Sale: Gringos Welcome", Canadian Business (November 1990), p. 75.

A number of individuals, including the author of this paper, were invited to make written submissions. For the hearings themselves, see Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence of the Standing Committee on External Affairs and International Trade Pursuant to Standing Order 108 (2), an encamination of Canada-U.S. -Mexico trade Negotiations (Ottawa: 1990).

Maclean's, October 8, 1990.

Winfield cited in Canadian Business (November 1990), p. 73.

Eden and Molot, "From Silent Integration to Strategic Alliance: The Political Economy of North American Free Trade", Presented at the annual meetings of the International Studies Association, Vancouver, B.C., March 22-24, 1991.

Maclean's, October 8, 1990.