Building the World

Year 2014: After Nafta

North America: wikimedia commons.

2014 marked the 20th anniversary of the North American free trade agreement, joining Canada, Mexico and the United States in partnership. While the original agreement focused on economics, now it may be time to expand the focus to shared resources including but not limited to: water, agriculture, energy, transport, communications, public health, employment, education, and digital government. What is the next phase for the North American regional framework? Might we begin with a common name: each partner nation presently calls the 1994 agreement by a separate term, with its own acronym. Should we combine TLCAN (Mexico), ALENA (Canada), and NAFTA (United States) into the simpler TAN?

2018 turned a page in regional history: Nafta dissolved. In its place, the acronym USMCA is now the trade agreement, although some called it Nafta 2.0. The United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement reached a new agreement on 30 September, 2018. One provision: agriculture and food, with particular aspects determined concerning the dairy market. There are also trade terms for the automotive industry, as well as some labor, environmental, and intellectual property provisions. Here’s a link to explore the agreement in detail. But what are the other issues that may be considered when seeing the three countries as a region?

Water: What should be the future of the Colorado River? A pact established water rights shared by the United States and Mexico (as well as the Navajo), but challenges to the Colorado River’s resources an sustainability may be emerging. Another area of water discussion: transboundary aquifers. Can the work of Gabriel Eckstein, University of Texas A&M School of Law and Director of the International Water Law Project, guide discussion of the future of the twenty aquifers shared by Mexico and United States. Ciudad Juarez, a city with more than 1 million people, gets all its water from the Hueco Bolson Aquifer; the 700, 000 residents of El Paso use the same aquifer for 40% of their water. It’s not just drinking water: transboundary aquifers are used for agricultural and industrial purposes. What is the future of agreement, only briefly mentioned in the Minutes of the  International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC)?

Transport: One of the advantages of a regional landscape, like USMCA’s purview, could be the longer stretches needed to take full advantage of emerging transport technologies. For example, magnetic levitation trains need some range to achieve performance. Another option? Linking highways that might be equipped with charging stations, encouraging the use of electric vehicles to be used on longer trips. Precedent law might be the agreements for a road linking an airport route connecting the United States and Canada with a highway.  An upgrade could redesign the road with an electric system similar to IONITY, a European partnership of four vehicle makers building charging stations very 75 miles along a multi-country networked road system. The advantages of using existing roads include the already-acquired permissions. Precedent might include 1500 mile (2,400 kilometer) Alaska Highway, sometimes called ALCAN. While the Alaska Highway resulted from a crisis, a military emergency, the joint effort caused improvement in the basic infrastructure of the region. Virgin Hyperloop might consider a North American route, perhaps redesigning the Pan-American Highway.

In the redesign of Nafta 2.0, no common name emerged.  In English United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement became USMCA (or as The Wall Street Journal quipped: “You-Smacka?”). In Spanish, it’s AEUMC or the Acuerdo Estados Unidos-México-Canadá. En Francais: AÉUMC for Accord États-Unis-Mexique-Canada.  Would a common name help?

Whatever you call it, the area covered by the new agreement has a population of 490,200,000, and a combined GDP of $25 trillion. There are oceans in stewardship. Energy systems might be an area for innovation. Disaster response may be regional, not national. Educational systems could further interlink. What do you think should unite the region?


Office of the United States Trade Representative. “United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement Text” (USMCA).

Harrup, Anthony and Kim Mackerel. “Goodbye Nafta. Hello…USMCA? Musca? AEUMC? You-Smacka?” 16 October 2018. The Wall Street Journal.


Eckstein, Gabriel. “Buried Treasure or Buried Hope? The Status of Mexico-U.S. Transboundary Aquifers under International Law.” International Community Law Review 13 (2011) 273-290. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

International Boundary and Water Commission, Joint Report of the Principle Engineers Regarding the Joint Cooperative Process. United States-Mexico Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Program (19 August 2009)


Huber, Thomas Patrick, and Carole J. Huber. The Alaska Highway: A Geographical Discovery. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2000.

Twichell, Heath. Northwest Epic: The Building of the Alaska Highway. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.



North American free trade agreement (NAFTA)


Tratado de libre comercio de america del norte (TLCAN OR TLC):


Accord de libre-echange nord americain (ALENA):




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