The Mariposa Summit: North American Leaders Make Symbolic and Multiple Decision

The Mariposa butterfly moves from winter feeding in the hills of Michoacán, through the United States to spend summers in corners of Canada. Its flight is symbolic of the inter-connectedness between the three North American nations. But mariposa herds are declining due to the absence of milkweed on their flight path. Therefore, at their recent meeting in Toluca – not far from the woodlands of Mariposas – Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Harper agreed to create a Working Group of experts to ensure that these butterflies thrive once again.

The tri-lateral decision on Mariposa butterflies is symbolic of the multiple decisions announced this week. They can be divided into five categories:

  • Increase regional competitiveness and trade
  • Stimulate innovation and education
  • Define areas of tri-lateral cooperation on energy while continuing coordination within the Coalition on Climate and Clear Air
  • Share information on security issues and coordinate communication on emergency management
  • Increase the participation of civil society on key public issues and cooperate further in support for Central America

This piece will identify the most significant decisions. However, their principal impact is that the range of bread and butter issues discussed among North American governments reflects the breadth of integration.  Most issues cannot be characterized as foreign. Instead, we should characterize these issues as “intermestic.”  This is the new nature of North American relations.

For a lawyer who participated through the Chamber of Commerce in the NAFTA negotiations over 20 years ago in Mexico City, perhaps the most important is the recognition that NAFTA’s future lies in the negotiations over standards, regulatory measures, protection of intellectual property and government procurement within the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).  All three North American governments seek to complete these 12 party negotiations by the end of this year.  Linking NAFTA’s future to these issues allows integration, trade, economic growth and jobs to expand without re-opening the original agreement. We are now committed to build upon the NAFTA structure.

Second, the prospect of self-sufficiency in oil and gas over the next three years allows our governments to focus more on the limitation of greenhouse gases. Thus the leaders’ decisions to invigorate the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and amend the Montreal Protocol are important.[1] The work of these revitalized bodies must include scientists, representatives from environmental organizations as well as the owners of public utility companies. We must engage climatic and environmental challenges as peoples of North America, not only governments.

Finally, the creation of a Trilateral Council for Research, Development and Innovation recognizes that municipal clusters of manufacturers, scientists, educational leaders and civil society are creating the new advanced manufacturing societies. Federal governments are critical to remove inessential regulatory obstacles to resourceful and responsible spirits at municipal and state levels where creative people work. Establishing transportation corridors among these clusters requires Federal governments to award licenses and constrain abuse while encouraging innovation, research and dynamism at the local level.[2]

Returning to the metaphor of mariposas, the leaders at their Toluca summit recognized the importance of removing the obstacles to fertile feeding grounds for migratory butterflies, protecting the air, habitat and water in order to enlarge this regional species. We all want these creatures to thrive. We all want our respective citizens to find economic and educational opportunities for growth.  May be, that was the most important message to emerge from the Mariposa Summit.

[1] See Joint Statement by North American Leaders, 21st Century North America: Building the Most Competitive and Dynamic Region in the World, 

[2] See, The Brookings Institution, Powering Advanced Industries State by State, February 2014.