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DAVID PETRAEUS is former Director of the CIA, commander of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and commander of U.S. Central Command. ROBERT ZOELLICK is former President of the World Bank, U.S. Trade Representative, and Deputy Secretary of State. They are co-chairs of a Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on North America.See more by David PetraeusSee more by Robert Zoellick
This week, U.S. President Barack Obama will travel to Mexico, where he will meet with his North American counterparts, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Enrique Peña-Nieto. The summit points to a great strategic opportunity: 20 years after the North American Free Trade Agreement entered into force, all three countries have the chance to forge a new forward-looking agenda for North American competitiveness and integration and thereby increase the economic growth and global influence of each.
As crises in the Middle East and rising tensions in Asia have consumed U.S. policymakers’ attention over the past decade, Washington has devoted comparatively little thought to North America. Yet it is precisely the broader global challenges of the 21st century that make an ambitious strategy to strengthen North America so important. By adopting policies that foster a more competitive and integrated region, the three nations can lay the foundation for greater prosperity at home while bolstering their power and positions worldwide.
Such a strategy can draw strength from several tailwinds that are already blowing in North America’s favor. With three democracies, almost 500 million people, and economies totaling $19 trillion, North America possesses the economic and demographic heft to put China and a rising East Asia in perspective.
The Canadian, Mexican, and U.S. economies are also highly integrated, with over $1 trillion in annual commerce. The countries are each other’s largest trading partners. And due to the development of regional supply chains, spurred by NAFTA, they are increasingly making things together, not simply selling things to each other.
Then there is the energy revolution, the epicenter of which is located in North America. Oil and gas production in Canada and the United States is soaring. The United States is now the world’s largest natural gas producer and, by 2016, could be its largest crude oil producer. Meanwhile, Mexico is poised for its own breakout thanks to the historic energy reform engineered by Peña Nieto last year.
Finally, relations among the three nations benefit from their shared values as open, pluralistic, and multi-party democracies. Despite memories of past conflict, North America today is remarkably free of destabilizing rivalries or territorial disputes.