Montebello, Quebec (CNSNews.com) - Leaders of the United States, Canada, and Mexico on Tuesday downplayed fears that their trilateral Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) is setting the foundation for a "North American Union." But they did not promise more openness to quell such fears.
"I'm amused by the difference between what actually takes place in the meetings and what some are trying to say takes place," President Bush said at a news conference in Montebello, Quebec. He is in Canada with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon for the fourth SPP meeting since its creation in 2005
As Cybercast News Service has previously reported, opponents on both sides of the political aisle have been out in force in Montebello and the nearby Canadian capital of Ottawa, protesting the meetings and the lack of transparency from government officials in attendance.
Liberals worry the meetings are an opportunity for U.S. corporations to exert control over Mexican and Canadian resources. Conservatives charge the meetings are a step toward creation of a North American Union similar to the European Union, where American sovereignty would be forfeited to super-national bureaucracies.
But Bush said he, Harper, and Calderon "represent three great nations [and] each respect each other's sovereignty."
"It's quite comical, actually, when you realize the difference between reality and what some people are talking on TV about," Bush said. "You lay out a conspiracy and then force people to try to prove it doesn't exist.
"There are some people who would like to frighten our fellow citizens into believing that relations between us are harmful for our respective peoples," Bush said, accusing opponents of engaging in "political scare tactics."
"I just believe they're wrong," he said. "I believe it's in our interest to trade. I believe it's in our interest to dialogue. I believe it's in our interest to work out common problems for the good of our people."
Bush's counterparts also brushed off concerns being raised about the meetings. Harper, referring to reports that plans are underway to build a "NAFTA Superhighway" connecting Mexico and Canada, joked that opponents are speculating about "super highways to the continent, maybe interplanetary, I'm not sure."
Calderon, through a translator, acknowledged that "there are several myths about this meeting. Some are more jovial, funnier than others."
Calderon said the SPP meetings focused on "common sense things." Harper said they were "pragmatic, practical discussions."
"The rules for jelly bean contents are different in Canada and the United States," Harper said. "They have to maintain two separate inventories. Is the sovereignty of Canada going to fall apart if we standardize the jelly bean? You know, I don't think so."
Aside from jelly bean standardization, the leaders discussed trade regulations, border security and immigration, relations with South America and the Middle East, energy and environmental issues.
During the closing news conference Tuesday, moved to earlier in the day so Calderon could return to Mexico to deal with damage caused to the Yucatan Peninsula by Hurricane Dean, none of the leaders addressed questions about whether the summit's lack of transparency was to blame for the harsh criticism.
Calderon suggested it would be beneficial to "talk to the people," but none of the leaders suggested changing the format or rules for future meetings. The 2008 SPP summit will be held in Texas, and the 2009 meeting is scheduled to take place in Mexico.
Advocacy groups have filed requests for documents related to previous meetings under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The conservative Judicial Watch called for more transparency in SPP-affiliated meetings when it released documents in February it obtained through FOIA. The group said the papers showed a secretive effort to establish strong ties among the countries.
Judicial Watch also criticized handwritten notes from U.S. representatives to the September 2006 North American Forum that referred to "evolution by stealth."
The group has filed a lawsuit alleging that the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC), a concurrent meeting of the elected leaders with 30 business leaders from the three nations, violates federal law requiring openness for committees that advise the president or federal agencies.
As the 2007 SPP summit wrapped up in Canada, the leaders looked forward to the 2008 meeting, which will be Bush's last.
According to the White House, it will focus on enhancing global competitiveness, safe food and products, sustainable energy and the environment, smart and secure borders, as well as emergency management and preparedness.
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