Is There a Comparative Perspective between the European Union and NAFTA?

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UNU-CRIS Occasional Papers
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UNU Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies
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UNU-CRIS Working Papers
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In 1991, a Conference was held in London regarding the launching of the North American FreeTrade Agreement (NAFTA). A member of the audience asked the speaker if he consideredwhether there was any chance for the NAFTA to be like the European Community; the answerwas negative. The NAFTA was seen since its beginning as a simple Free Trade Agreement,maybe similar to an EFTA, rather than as a potential community.

Time has proven that the respectable scholar was wrong; however, we cannot blame him forthinking like that. On the contrary, it was pretty ambitious to consider that NAFTA could take astep beyond what a FTA involves, theoretically speaking.

There are currently several expectations around NAFTA that clearly foresee something beyond asimple FTA. Moreover, there are several analytical studies of a comparative nature, with the EUas the standard of comparison, that raise doubt over the idea of a North American Community. Ifwe agree that the NAFTA is a region in the making and its objectives tend to be overtaken by thedynamics of the region, we are in business.

North America has become a real region for security reasons, for economic advantages and forpolitical interests. The point is whether the NAFTA represents a distinctive model or its evolutionreveals common features with the European experience. In asking this question, we do not see theneed for North America to replicate the European regional integration model.

In summary, what the NAFTA needs is a theoretical tradition to debate its progress as well as itsobstacles, in order to study its nature beyond simple negative integration and assuming that theRegional Integration Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico, could perfectlyevolve towards a community with a stronger institutional system.