Colin Robertson – Bolstering Canada’s International Reputation

NARP Advisory Board member Colin Robertson is a former Canadian diplomat; Senior Advisor, Dentons, LLP; and Vice President and Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute. He writes a regular column for The Globe and Mail newspaper that analyzes Canada’s role in the world and often North America specifically. During 2016 we will reprint or excerpt selected recently written columns, which are posted with the permission of the author. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the the author and do not necessarily reflect a position of the North American Research Partnership.

Three things Trudeau can do to bolster Canada’s international reputation
Colin Robertson  The Globe and Mail Tuesday, Jan. 05, 2016

“It’s 3 a.m. There’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing. … Who do you want answering that phone?” National security experience didn’t do it for Hillary Clinton in 2008, but this ad could do the trick in 2016. Public anxieties about security and a fragmenting international order are rising.

Assessing geopolitical risk is a booming business for diplomats, spies and money managers.

Continuing instability in the Middle East and North Africa tops the Council on Foreign Relations’ annual Preventative Priorities Survey. At the top of the list is the conflict in Syria and Iraq that creates refugees and breeds terrorists. Current tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are a piece of the deep, historical divisions between Shiite and Sunni, Persian and Arab.

Other top-tier contingencies include a crisis with North Korea; disruptive cyberattacks; a terrorist attack on the U.S. or an ally; political violence in Turkey; political instability in Egypt or Afghanistan. Lower-tier contingencies include more Russian aggression in Ukraine; Russia-NATO tensions; European Union divisions caused by the refugee influx; South China Sea confrontations sparked by China.

Nor can we count on prosperous times to assuage tensions. Economists predict another anemic year for China and Europe. Global trade, the engine of growth since 1945, has slowed.

Another challenge that should worry policy-makers: Global democratization is in retreat.

In its annual assessment of social, political and economic freedoms, Freedom House reports that the state of freedom worsened significantly in nearly every part of the world.” The bright spots last year were few: fair elections in Argentina and Tunisia, Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory in Myanmar.

With more governments censoring information and expanding surveillance, Internet freedom declined for a fifth-consecutive year. Not since the Cold War have nation states’ commitment to an international system built on democratic norms been less durable.

Other human rights watchdogs drew similar conclusions, warning that women are particular targets of Islamic terrorists, such as Islamic State and Boko Haram.

Amnesty International wants a “dramatic shift” in how the international community handles the 19.5 million refugees. Resettlement placement remains disappointingly low. Canada, it noted, provided inspiration in pledging to welcome 25,000.

To demonstrate that “Canada is back,” we can do more to support international order.

First, actively recommit to internationalism.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rededicated Canada to multilateralism, and he actively engaged at the quartet of recent international summits (G20, Commonwealth, APEC, Climate). On climate change, Canada put up money and worked constructively to help close the Paris deal.

More effective than creating new democracy institutes is bringing vigour and accountability to existing multilateral programs. This should include our own Parliamentary Centre and our international youth leadership programs.

Second, identify those niches where we can make a difference.

Our expertise in international refugee matters should be reactivated, drawing on our successful experiment in pluralism. We can also demonstrate to the Trumpsters and scaremongers that a generous resettlement policy is good international citizenship and builds a stronger nation.

Containing nuclear proliferation is another niche where we can help. We have both experience and expertise that can also serve our commercial interests in a world that wants to wean itself off carbon.

The “Canadian vaccine” that helped contain the Ebola epidemic makes the case for continuing investment in collaborative scientific research.

Water will likely replace oil as the vital commodity of the 21st century. It’s already the source of regional conflicts. With a century trans-boundary water-management experience, we can help. Significant advances in effective water usage by our oil, gas and hydro industries have wider potential.

And third, let’s invest in the Canadian Forces, especially our navy.

In an era of recurrent humanitarian disasters, there will be frequent calls at 3 a.m. for first responders. The Canadian Forces have demonstrated proficiency, but they need both trained personnel and new kit.

The promised defence review must re-examine our procurement policies. What continuing premium are we prepared to pay, not just in dollars but in fleet readiness, to “Buy Canada”?

Earning our way back to a level of international engagement commensurate with our aspirations means activist diplomacy and Canadian Forces with muscle. This requires long-term investments in money and resources.

The post-Second World War institutions that guided international relations through decades of bipolarity and years of unipolarity are under intense stress.

Coping with the new multipolarity requires every nation, including Canada, to step up their commitment to multilateralism. Queen Elizabeth II got it right in her Christmas broadcast, saying: “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

The international scene will test Mr. Trudeau’s “sunny ways.” By finding our niches, we can demonstrate that “Canada is back.”

Recommendation 1 from Competitive Border Communities

Over the next several weeks, we will periodically take a closer look at the eight principal recommendations from our 2015 report, Competitive Border Communities: Mapping and Developing U.S.-Mexico Transborder Industries, a collaboration with our partners at the Mexico Institute. Today we look at the first recommendation. 

Our leadoff recommendation (you can find the full list of recommendations on pages 14-15 of the report) has to do with the key economic development role played by the two federal governments at what is a very delineated, securitized border (which could not be more different from Europe’s Schengen area). To wit:
The United States and Mexican federal governments must play an especially important role in cross-border economic development efforts. Given the fact that border economies have an international boundary running through the middle of them, stakeholder engagement efforts that build partnerships between federal agencies and local communities are invaluable in this process. U.S. and Mexican consulates can serve an expanded facilitating role in these cross-border economic development efforts.
In other words, because of the highly “securitized” nature of the U.S.-Mexico border, border communities’ independent spirit won’t be enough to get the job done. In addition, post-9/11 security enhancements along the U.S.-Mexico border by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have—as we have argued elsewhere—have made it that much harder to do economic development in border communities (much of which should be cross-border economic development).

Therefore, if the two federal governments want to utilize the border as a platform for economic integration, development and growth by helping to build transborder industry clusters, they must play a significant role in local cluster-based economic development efforts. Specifically, U.S. and Mexican Consulates in border cities will need to be staffed with additional experts on trade and export promotion, customs processes, agricultural issues and related topics. In addition, they are in the best position to pull together the numerous federal agencies with a stake in border economic issues.  There is much to do and the work has just begun, but the return on investment is potentially enormous.

Summer 2015 Border Tour: Conducting Industry Mapping focus groups along the U.S.- Mexico Border

In June 2015, the NARP team, along with the Mexico Institute, toured the entire U.S.- Mexico border and conducted five focus groups for the U.S.-Mexico Border Industry Mapping initiative. Thanks to the generous support of USAID Mexico and the Council of State Governments West, the  U.S.-Mexico Border Industry Mapping initiative seeks to identify, map and analyze key industries that are highly concentrated, binational and dynamic operating within five binational sub-regions along the entire U.S.- Mexico border region.  The goal of these focus groups was to gain a more detailed understanding of regional supply chains, to discuss approaches to cluster-based economic development, and to develop steps that could be taken by local and federal actors to facilitate the further development of key industrial clusters.

The sessions were hosted by a variety of public-, private- and academic entities and featured a variety of stakeholders, including cluster representatives, chambers of commerce, city and county governments, mega regions, universities, U.S. and Mexican consulates, and economic development organizations. Approximately 200 stakeholders participated in the five focus groups.

Date Site Host
June 22, 2015 San Diego, California CaliBaja Mega Region
June 24, 2015 Tucson, Arizona Consulate of Mexico in Tucson
June 26, 2015 El Paso, Texas BorderPlex Alliance
June 29, 2015 Laredo, Texas Binational Center, Texas A&M International University
June 30, 2015 Brownsville, Texas United Brownsville

At each session, the research team presented findings from the initial quantitative research pertaining to the sub region and engaged local economic development experts and industry leaders to get their feedback. Please click on the following links to see presentations and pictures from each focus group:

Special thanks to our partners for hosting/sponsoring our focus groups, particularly the CaliBaja Mega Region, the Consulate of Mexico in Tucson, Pima Association of Governments, the BorderPlex Alliance, the Binational Center at Texas A&M International University, and United Brownsville.

Past, Present and Future Borders of the World

NARP Energy Portfolio Director Rick Van Schoik travelled to University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) and Matamoros, Tamaulipas last week to talk about the “U.S.- Mexico Border Economy in Transition” report, to develop an understanding of binational innovation clusters there with United Brownsville, and also to discuss borders of the world yesterday, today, and tomorrow at the UTB Comparative Borders Conference. He spoke about failed states and their borders, those borders fractured by military aggression, those becoming more fixed, those still fuzzy, those, due to pressures, that are becoming more fluid and flexible, and finally those that are as open, or to continue the alliteration, freer.  He then commented on what all this implied for North American sovereignty and borders.  For example Mexico’s recent change to their constitution means law enforcement officers from the U.S can apply to carry weapons in the course of their duty, another way that the two nations have moved the border away from the border.

PRESS RELEASE: Canyon Vista Medical Center Opening Doors to Mexico


For Immediate Release

Canyon Vista Medical Center Opening Doors to Mexico

April 1, 2015

Contact: RUTH SOBERANES, (602) 616-6209,

As work concludes on the new 177,000 square foot Canyon Vista Regional Health Center in Sierra Vista, Arizona, distinguished guests near and far are getting ready to celebrate its grand opening on April 23, 2015. The Canyon Vista Medical Center Mexico Reception will take place on Friday, April 10, 2015 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Canyon Vista Medical Center in Sierra Vista, AZ.

Among those welcoming the opening of thestate of the art hospital are Mexican dignitaries, who recognize the benefits this medical center may reap for the U.S. – Mexico border region.

The new hospital will provide 100 beds (19 designated for adult psychiatry), state of the art technology and equipment, spacious inpatient and outpatient facilities, an outdoor dining area and a heliport servicing two helicopters. Not only will the hospital provide high quality care for residents of Sierra Vista, Fort Huachuca and Cochise County at large, but it will also be open to Mexican patients seeking high-quality medical care just north of the border.

Dr. Dean French, CEO of Canyon Vista Regional Health Center, affirms that the new hospital will expand healthcare options for the region at large and bring greater economic opportunities to the area. “We look forward to this new day in healthcare and strengthening the region by providing access to key services for our community and patients. The new medical center provides a one-stop shop for multiple medical practices that will include OB/GYN, pediatrics, internal medicine, cardiology, orthopedics, sports medicine and general surgery. Additionally, it will provide advanced wound care with hyperbaric oxygen, adult and pediatric rehabilitation, and chemotherapeutic infusion services. The consolidation of all of these services under one roof will drastically improve clinical integration and increase efficiency in care,” states French.

As Fort Huachuca—a major source of jobs for thousands of Sierra Vista residents—faces reductions in government funding, the city must find ways to diversify its economy and find viable economic alternatives to insure its sustainability. Mignonne Hollis, Sierra Vista Economic Development Foundation Executive Director, agrees that the hospital will provide greater economic opportunities for the region. “We see this as a beginning to our friendship with our neighbors down south and the chance to start a conversation about how to grow our local economies together,” says Hollis. Among other community leaders, she recognizes that one way to focus their economic development efforts is to strengthen its trade relations with Mexico and provide greater access to healthcare. The new opening of the Canyon Vista Medical Center provides the perfect opportunity to strengthen the transborder healthcare cluster in Sonora and Arizona.

For more information, please contact Ruth Soberanes at or 602-616-6209.

PRESS RELEASE: “Arizona-Mexico Trade: Strengthening Ties, Strengthening Economies”


For Immediate Release

March 31, 2015

Contact: James E. Garcia,, or 602-460-1374

AZ Hispanic Chamber, AZ Legislature Latino Caucus host Arizona-Mexico trade panel

  • Groups to hostpanel – “Arizona-Mexico Trade: Strengthening Ties, Strengthening Economies”
  • This event is free and open to the public

(PHOENIX) The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Arizona Legislature’s Latino Caucus on Thursdaywill host “Arizona-Mexico Trade: Strengthening Ties, Strengthening Economies”, a wide-ranging discussion regarding the state of Arizona-Mexico trade.

As Arizonans work hard to rebuild our economy, a panel of experts gathers for a wide-ranging discussion examining the future of import-export trade between Arizona and Mexico, our largest international trading partner.

The panel will be moderated by Phoenix Business Journal Publisher Ray Schey. Scheduled panelists: Gonzalo A. de la Melena, Jr. President &CEO, Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Margie Emmermann, Vice President, Molera Alvarez and former director of the Arizona Mexico Commission; Michael Patterson, shareholder, Polsinelli PC; Erik Lee, executive director, North American Research Partnership.

“The Arizona economy is recovering and learning from its mistakes, but it’s important to remember that one of state’s major assets is our neighbor to the south, its booming economy, and its long ties to Arizona business,” said Gonzalo A. de la Melena, Jr. President & CEO, Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The panel is hosted by Arizona Legislature’s Latino Caucus and Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It is scheduled 9 to 10:15 a.m., April 2, at the Arizona State Capitol, Executive Tower, 2nd Floor Conference Room, 1700 West Washington, Street, Phoenix, AZ 85007.

“U.S.-Mexico trade is now valued at well over a half trillion dollars per year, 80 percent of which crosses the U.S.-Mexico land border. This trade supports around six million U.S. jobs, and systems of co-production in manufacturing allow companies to combine the comparative advantages of the United States and Mexico, boosting the competitiveness of North America as a whole.” Erik Lee and Christopher Wilson, Forbes Magazine, “How to Boost Border Competitiveness? Just Ask the Folks There.

North America in the World 2015

Some may think that the meeting between Presidents Obama and Pena Nieto this week served merely as the “other news” besides the Republicans taking control of both chambers of the Congress today. But the U.S. – Mexico relationship, actually much more strategic than most know, has timeliness such that the meeting was of more import and more critically timed than they might realize.

TRADE: NAFTA celebrates its 20th anniversary last year and has truly and overwhelmingly benefitted Fortune 500 companies. Yet most Americans still think NAFTA is a dirty word…largely because they haven’t seen the direct benefits to themselves.  These include not just cheaper prices on commodities we import from Mexico like fresh new electronics and fresh produce but a trickle down of millions of jobs, many in services, from those multinational corporations that jointly manufacture advanced products for the world to consume.  Mexico has more free trade agreements than any other nation meaning our jointly produced, high U.S. content exports benefit nearly every American.

ENERGY: The three North American energy ministers met late in 2014 as Mexico completes the implementation of its energy reform and as petroleum prices crashed worldwide.  These all matter to the U.S.-Mexico relationship facilitating joint manufacturing that will benefit from the cheaper prices available to the entire North American manufacturing platform. At the same time the two nations are working collaboratively to eliminate both health-impacting criteria and greenhouse gases from fossil fuel mixes.

CUBA: The attempt by the U.S to re-establish ties with Cuba really has Mexico as a fulcrum and not just because Americans travel through Mexico to get to Cuba.  The reality is that every south-looking allianceand liaison that Mexico has joined, Cuba has been a member and Mexico is the perfect “go- between” and exemplar for that budding relationship.

MIGRATION: The United States cannot ponder migration without consulting the donor nations and while Mexico is no longer the source of most migrants, it is the route that most migrants choose to arrive from those poorer nations.  As such, consulting Mexico and looking at the highly successful Mexico-Canada migration accord which has been guiding their migration circularity for over a decade, is advised.

EDUCATION: Developing a common workforce regardless of what country they work in is critical to assuring the advanced manufacturing we have developed not only remain competitive worldwide but is able to bring products to market more affordably than other low-income nations.  Beating China at making solar photovoltaic cells is an example.  NARP has published policy briefs on the North American transborder education challenge (“U.S.-Mexico Educational Exchange:Academic Underperformance and a New Diplomatic Opportunity” and “U.S.-Canada Educational Exchange: Academic Alliances and Opportunities” ).

ECONOMICS But no relationship is more important than the economic relationship.  So much so that Vice President Biden chairs the High Level Economic Dialogue between the two countries that is only now finding its feet.  The meeting this week is only the second official get together in over a year and half of talking.  With two years left of this administration many along the border are hoping trade, commerce, and business can continue to dominate the conversation.

SECURITY: But no conversation with Mexico is complete without considering corruption, crime, and violence.  The United States has adopted an attitude of understanding the networks of transnational crime organizations to better share responsibility with Mexico to eliminate those supply chains for drugs, guns, and yes, even humans, who are trafficked.

NORTH AMERICA: As the three North American leaders prepare for their annual summit later this year, it was strategically important that U.S. and Mexico settle binational, bilateral, transborder issues before the three meet.

NARP will remain busy engaging local stakeholders in the process.

Press Release: CSG West’s Border Legislative Conference Announces Executive Summary on Binational Competitiveness to Mexico Lawmakers

December 8, 2014

For Immediate Release Edgar Ruiz, CSG West, (916) 501-5070
Chris Wilson, Wilson Center Mexico Institute, (202) 359-5863
Erik Lee, North American Research Partnership, (858) 449-3798

Sacramento, CA– Last week the Council of State Governments West’s Border Legislative Conference (BLC) unveiled to Mexican federal lawmakers and U.S. officials the executive summary of a report focused on the competitiveness of the U.S. – Mexico border region. The report, titled “The U.S. – Mexico Border Economy in Transition,” was developed by CSG West’s research partners – the Wilson Center Mexico Institute and the North American Research Partnership.

The executive summary presents key findings of the four regional economic competitiveness forums convened by the BLC this year at strategic locations along the U.S. – Mexico border region. The forums brought together federal and state lawmakers, high-ranking U.S. and Mexican officials, experts and local leaders from both countries to discuss the challenges and opportunities to improve the competitiveness of this region which serves as the “nerve center” of the bilateral relationship. The forums also provided an opportunity for border residents to offer their insights and recommendations of what governments and the business community can do to achieve actionable results that further innovation, job creation and prosperity of the region. Among the recommendations highlighted in the summary is the need to strengthen state binational institutions, promote crossborder urban planning, expand trusted traveler programs, enhance coordination among institutions of higher learning to improve work force development, and capitalize on energy development, particularly as Mexico implements its recently enacted energy reforms. The BLC will develop a legislative roadmap aimed at exchanging ideas and best practices that can help governments implement the recommendations in the report. The BLC will also be conducting visits to state legislatures along the U.S. – Mexico border in the coming months to present the findings of the report and policy roadmap.

“The report and its findings provide federal lawmakers in Mexico great insights to the tremendous economic growth between the U.S. and Mexico, and it also emphasizes the important role that states and local governments have to engage in the High Level Economic Dialogue established by the federal governments of both countries,” stated Senator Ernesto Ruffo Appel, chairman of the Commission of Northern Border Affairs in Mexico’s Federal Senate. “The U.S. and Mexican economies lose out on billions of dollars of economic growth each year as a result of congestion at the U.S.-Mexico border. This year, we met with government officials, business owners and residents along the border gathering their best ideas for how to improve border management and strengthen the border economy. If implemented, these recommendations will help the border region fulfill its potential as a motor of competitiveness and growth for the regional economy” stated Chris Wilson of the Woodrow Wilson Center Mexico Institute during testimony before the Commission of Northern Border Affairs in Mexico’s Senate.

“The work of the BLC and its research partners provides policy-makers of both countries with relevant data and analysis that our respective border communities can use to inform leaders of interior states within each country of the importance of the bilateral relationship and the interdependence of our economies” stated Diputado David Perez Tejada, member of the Northern Border Affairs Committee in Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies.

CSG West’s BLC delegation to Mexico City included Diputada Imelda Guadalupe De La Garza of Nuevo León current chair of the BLC, as well as staff from CSG West, the Woodrow Wilson Mexico Institute and the North American Research Partnership. A similar launch will be made in Washington, D.C. for U.S. federal lawmakers in late January 2015. The complete report will be available within the coming weeks. The executive summary can be viewed and downloaded at (or click Border_Economy_Transition_Wilson_Lee).

Ebola Threat: Manageable or Magnified

Dr. Peter Piot, one of the co-discoverers of the Ebola virus, sounded an alarm back in July warning that a “mega crisis” could occur unless response was comprehensive and swift enough. He was initially criticized for his strong reaction but said he “would rather be accused of overreacting.” He recently reaffirmed his warning, saying he was “on target.”

Now that Ebola is in Europe, I have to wonder how long it will be before politicians want to close the southern border if the virus shows up in the Americas. The Weekly Standard, Department of Defense News reported on Wednesday, “Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, fears that the self-evident ability of the American medical system to successfully cope with Ebola will lead millions of Central American residents to make refugees of themselves and head toward the United States.” Granted, we were caught flatfooted and about three months too late on preventing Ebola from arriving in the United States, but now that it is here and if it arrives in Mexico, then is it not the time to turn to our neighbors, instead of on our neighbors?

Lesson One: React and Respond ASAP to Recover Completely

With all the hysteria about ISIS coming across the southern border into the U.S. and the upped concern about a doubling contraction time of less than three weeks for Ebola in West Africa, perspective for if and when it shows up in Mexico is warranted. During the Influenza scare in Mexico, I remember flying freely from the U.S. to Canada and from the U.S to Mexico. Public safety officials’ concern was not so much who was coming into Mexico infected with influenza—as it had already arrived but rather who might have it and might spread it if they were to leave Mexico.  All passengers were screened by an automated mass thermometer as we approached our gates.  Those of us (and I was one) who had an elevated temperature (a possible early warning of infection) were asked by the technician to undergo a more thorough examination by a nurse and some of us (not me that time) were sent to a doctor.  Indeed, some of us missed our flights and some were detained for treatment. This was a small inconvenience to pay for pandemic vigilance.

During the episode, all schools, many sporting events, and some businesses were closed by the Government of Mexico at a real cost to the nation of millions of dollars of lost productivity.  Again, that was a relatively small price to pay early in the progression of steps to contain a contagious disease that did seem at the time either more transmittable or virulent or both.  Today the U.S. owes Mexico a huge “¡Gracias!” for setting an example, even though nothing more serious than a normal flu season flu ensued. But seemingly for months, the origin was thought to be swine farms in southeastern Mexico.  This proved to be false, but the misperception lingers even today.

Lesson two: Don’t accuse and not assist.

Neighbors look out for each other when their common health or any other security is involved.  When former President Calderon flew to Japan over California and saw widespread wildfires, he immediately called then Governor Schwarzenegger to offer his firefighters.  “Your state is on fire,” he said, “What can I do?”

I often wonder, given the extraordinarily wide charge given to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) (the ones that clear you to fly when you come back to the U.S. from overseas, not TSA that clears you to fly within the U.S.), if we can expect them to monitor regular migration, drug and contraband trafficking, “first in nation” invasive as well as smuggled plants and animals, and other threats, whether we are asking too much for them to manage crowds of tourists and travelers while anticipating diseases symptoms at the same time. A more effective alternative may be for CBP to communicate and collaborate with their southern counterparts, to insure shared monitoring and equal prevention tactics.

The show must go on

While the necessary steps to prevent the spread of Ebola must be taken and lessons learned from Mexico’s reaction to the last public health scare, our southern border must continue with business as usual. Trade and tourism between the U.S and Mexico is too valuable to be jeopardized.  Measured at over a half trillion (yes with a T) dollars annually, the two industries create and maintain millions of jobs here and there assuring mass net migration stays at zero.  And, as important as the joint advanced manufacturing platform that the three NAFTA nations have built, trade and tourism allows North America to maintain its competitiveness on the world marketplace.

Ducheny Receives Ohtli Award

NARP board member Denise Moreno Ducheny was recently recognized by the Government of Mexico with the Ohtli Award, the highest recognition awarded by Mexico to U.S. citizens who have contributed in an exceptional manner to the development of the Mexican community abroad. Past recipients of this award include: President of the Educational Fund of NALEO, Arturo Vargas, Editor of “La Opinión” in Los Angeles, California, Mónica Lozano, President of the National Council of La Raza, Janet Murguía (2009), former Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, and President of the Hispanic Leadership Institute, Dr. Juan Andrade Jr. (2010).

Denise Moreno Ducheny is a retired California senator from San Diego, serving in the state Assembly from 1994-2000 and then elected to state Senate in 2002. She will receive the award during the annual conference of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials later this month in San Diego. For additional information, please see click here to read the NALEO press release.

NARP congratulates Denise for her outstanding work and this much-deserved recognition.