A leading foreign policy research group based in New York says Canada, Mexico and the United States must work together to make North America competitive with rising European Union and Asian nations.

The privately-funded Council on Foreign Relations task force says the future of North America would be stronger, safer and more competitive if the three nations were to institutionalize their partnerships. But the task force says it is not setting out to create a North American version of the European Union. "There is no interest in North America to replicate the European experience. We don't want to create large, supranational institutions that are as intrusive as that of Europe. On the other hand, we did feel that some lean institutions are essential," said

Robert Pastor, the director for North American Studies at American University in Washington, who served as the task force's vice-chairman.

Chief among those proposed institutions is an annual North American Summit, similar to the meeting held by the three governments in Texas last March. The task force also calls for a North American Council, advocating the region's best interests. "Hopefully the three leaders would turn to this North American council and say 'Look, we're getting wonderful advice on what our governments should do but we're not getting very good advice on what we should do about North America as a whole. Why don't you prepare a plan for us on education on agriculture, on the environment, that we could consider that even as we consider the advice of our governments,'" Mr. Pastor said.

On the trade front, the task force is urging the governments to create a commission to develop a common approach to trade remedies, and a tribunal to settle trade and investment disputes.

Mr. Pastor says in the 11 years since the start of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the United States, Mexico and Canada have done a superb job of integrating. "Indeed, If you measure integration as intra-regional trade as a percentage of world trade, North America after one decade is as integrated as Europe is after five decades," he said.

The task force proposes more labor and trade mobility within North America. John Manley, a former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada who has negotiated border agreements with the United States, says this can be achieved by thinking of the three nations as belonging to the same zone of security. "The key one is to think in terms of a security perimeter surrounding a zone of security. We make the point that it is important for all three governments to commit themselves to security within that zone and thereby alleviating the need to build barriers at our mutual borders," he said.

The task force also proposes a North American border pass for easier movement between the nations, and a "North American preference" that would allow North American citizens to work anywhere in the region with far fewer restrictions that other immigrants. This would require reversal of the current U.S. policy calling for restrictions on travel in and out of the United States.

The task force also calls for the creation of an investment fund aimed at narrowing the development gap between Mexico and its northern neighbors.