The global business and trade environment is becoming increasingly complex and competitive, fuelled by rapidly changing patterns of global value chains, the rise of new economic powers, the intense pursuit of bilateral liberalization agendas and new security dynamics.
For Canada, the United States and Mexico, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is an important component of our economic success and prosperity. As such, it provides the primary platform for our countries to compete in the global context.
To stay competitive, our three countries must continue working together to build on NAFTA's success by harnessing the region's strengths, bringing down any remaining trade barriers and ensuring that our business sectors have the freedom, tools and market access they need to compete, in a co-ordinated fashion, in the global context.
At the March 2006 NAFTA Commission meeting, Ministers committed to continue building a more competitive North American business platform that will ease the flow of goods, services, and capital between the three NAFTA countries in key sectors.
Today, NAFTA Ministers approved focused sectoral work in four sectors: swine/hogs, steel, consumer electronics, and chemicals.
Despite the high degree of co-operation and cross-border trade in this sector, some market access issues remain among the three NAFTA countries, which can increase costs for producers and consumers alike. These include potential border delays, regulatory differences and competitive pressures from emerging players in the North American market.
To help North America's swine sector compete more effectively, NAFTA Ministers agreed to work co-operatively to lower barriers to trade in swine. This includes developing coordinated approaches to standards, regulations and performance objectives, preventing border delays and sharing research. Ministers also agreed to explore the possibility of developing protocols to ensure a predictable, co-ordinated response within North America in the event of an outbreak of swine-related diseases.
The North American steel market is highly integrated, and the industry in all three NAFTA countries share common interests and concerns.
Through the work of the North American Steel Trade Committee, NAFTA partners are undertaking a comprehensive analysis of trade barriers in this industry. Once the analysis is complete, partners will make recommendations -- including in the areas of country-of-origin and permit requirements -- that will make North America's steel industry more competitive.
Rapid and dramatic technological advances over the years have created a huge global market for consumer electronics. These advances have also led to increased, low-cost competition and a shortened product lifespan that finds older products ending up in landfills more rapidly. NAFTA Ministers agreed to work together to lower trade barriers to ensure that this industry has the tools and market access it needs to succeed in all three countries. Ministers also agreed to work with the trilateral Commission of Environmental Co-operation to explore ways to address the environmental impacts of the lifespan and disposal of consumer electronics.
The chemicals industry is a large and important industry to all three NAFTA partners, providing jobs, consumer products and inputs for a wide range of sectors, including the medical, automotive, textile, electronics, construction and food industries. NAFTA Ministers have agreed to review recommendations provided to the three governments to facilitate trade in this sector - including customs and rules-of-origin requirements and how to make this industry more competitive and cost-effective in the global context.
To promote safety and environmentally friendly standards, Ministers also agreed to explore work that will assist current efforts towards common standards and requirements for the labelling and transportation of hazardous chemicals.