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4.6: North America's Global Connections

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    21072
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    North America continues to have a significant role in global trade and influence. Both Canada and the United States are members of the Group of Eight (G8), a political forum of the world’s leading industrialized countries that also includes France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. [Note: in 2014 Russia's membership was suspended and it permanently left in 2017] Both are also members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), an intergovernmental organization that collectively regulates international trade (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)).

    clipboard_e4cbae0464aa028d3bbf58ef1be606a40.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Map of the World Trade Organization (© Tsui, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Within North America, trade has been governed under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, Mexico, and the United States. This agreement was established in 1994 with the goal of increasing economic cooperation between the three countries. Prior to NAFTA, although the US and Canada engaged in free trade, goods bought and sold between Mexico and the US were subject to tariffs, or additional taxes. In 2018, NAFTA was replaced by the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) as a result of a renegotiation of NAFTA sought by US President Donald Trump.

    NAFTA has had generally positive impacts on the economies of the region. Canada’s manufacturing output held steady despite global decreases in productivity. Mexico’s maquiladoras, manufacturing plants that take components of products and assemble them for export, have become a fixture of its landscape especially along the border. The United States also saw a modest economic boost from the agreement.

    After the Cold War, the United States retained its position as a global superpower. It has the largest economy of any other country, including the combined output of the European Union, accounting for 25 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). It leads the world in military expenditures, and by many measures, is the most influential country in the world. However, it also has the largest prison population and has a much higher infant mortality rate than most other industrialized countries with strong regional concentrations of high infant mortality. Some wonder if the US will retain its global dominance in the coming decades, or if it will become one country among many influential world leaders.

    Both Canada and the United States continue to attract immigrants, drawn to these countries by the hope of good jobs and political freedoms. Each country has dealt with the influx of immigration in very different ways. Over 200,000 people immigrate to Canada every year and the Canadian immigration system gives preference to immigrants for skilled professions. Around 20 percent of Canada’s population is foreign born, the highest of the G8 countries. Canada’s immigrants have shaped its cultural landscape and have created a rich cultural mosaic. In contrast, immigrants to the United States have generally been expected to assimilate, creating a relatively homogeneous cultural landscape rather than retaining individual ethnic identities. This notion of mixing cultural groups to create a more homogeneous national culture is metaphorically termed a melting pot.

    Canada and the United States’ reactions to refugees have also been markedly different. The United States set a goal of accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees, but immigration from Syria has been contentious politically with some fearing the potential for terrorist attacks by migrants. Several state governors outright refused to accept Syrian refugees. The Canadian government, in contrast, agreed to resettle 25,000 Syrians in 2016. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greeted the first plane of refugees, offering winter clothing and stuffed animals and saying, “Welcome home.” Throughout history, Canada has welcomed the world’s displaced peoples, accepting 1.2 million refugees since World War II.

    Undocumented, or illegal, immigration to the United States continues to be another significant political issue. Around 11 million undocumented migrants currently live in the US. Just over 50 percent are from Mexico. As drug crime worsened in Central America, undocumented migration from those countries surged and many now make a long and dangerous trek from Central America through Mexico in hope of reaching US soil. Undocumented and unaccompanied child migrants in particular have increased dramatically in recent years. As countries experience economic decline, political turmoil, and often dangerous living conditions, migrants will likely continue to flock to Canada and the US in search of a better life.

    Group of Seven:

    a political forum of the world’s leading industrialized countries including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union, also known as the G7. Formerly the G8.

    World Trade Organization:

    an intergovernmental organization that collectively regulates international trade, also known as the WTO

    North American Free Trade Agreement:

    an agreement established in 1994 with the goal of increasing economic cooperation between Canada, Mexico, and the United States, also referred to as NAFTA

    Maquiladoras:

    a manufacturing plant that takes components of products and assembles them for export

    Melting pot:

    a metaphorical term referring to the mixing of cultural groups to create a more homogeneous national culture


    4.6: North America's Global Connections is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Caitlin Finlayson.

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