The 2014 North American Leaders Summit, held on February 19th in Toluca, Mexico, sent relatively mild signals to the international community. Many opinion leaders and pundits complained that the few “key deliverables” – that is, concrete agreements – avoided the most significant issues. While no one went as far as calling the summit a failure, it appears that for many commentators, the summit did not deliver as much as expected.

It would be misleading, however, to infer from this event that the three North American countries’ relations and efforts at mutual cooperation are not still advancing. It would mean focusing on form and disregarding the substance. In other words, just because the meeting did not produce major headlines or redefine the North American agenda does not mean that the opportunities for better integration that do exist are going unaddressed, or that significant progress is not being made on a number of fronts.

One prime example of the opportunities for better integration that are being seized comes from the energy sector. North American energy independence, a long-desired strategic objective for the region is, for the first time, within reach. This is not only due to the game-changing exploitation of shale gas reservoirs in the US, but also due to the better integration of the energy sector – first with Canada and now with Mexico.

The 2014 North American Leaders Summit, held on February 19th in Toluca, Mexico, sent relatively mild signals to the international community. Many opinion leaders and pundits complained that the few “key deliverables” – that is, concrete agreements – avoided the most significant issues. While no one went as far as calling the summit a failure, it appears that for many commentators, the summit did not deliver as much as expected.

It would be misleading, however, to infer from this event that the three North American countries’ relations and efforts at mutual cooperation are not still advancing. It would mean focusing on form and disregarding the substance. In other words, just because the meeting did not produce major headlines or redefine the North American agenda does not mean that the opportunities for better integration that do exist are going unaddressed, or that significant progress is not being made on a number of fronts.

One prime example of the opportunities for better integration that are being seized comes from the energy sector. North American energy independence, a long-desired strategic objective for the region is, for the first time, within reach. This is not only due to the game-changing exploitation of shale gas reservoirs in the US, but also due to the better integration of the energy sector – first with Canada and now with Mexico.

Major projects such as the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, which continues to progress gradually, and unprecedented measures such as the recently passed Mexican energy reform are reshaping the energy arena. In particular, Mexico’s reforms, which open the oil and gas sector to private investment for the first time in more than seventy years, show that a commitment to increased interdependence will enhance the region’s energy security and competitive advantage vis-à-vis the global marketplace.

Another example of increased coordination comes from the efforts to combat drug-trafficking. Although leaders didn’t emphasize security collaboration at the Summit, just a few days afterwards, “El Chapo” Guzman, the world’s most powerful drug lord was captured in Mexico after an intense joint law enforcement effort.  The capture of El Chapo was not just a Mexican victory, but a regional one. The early reports show that collaboration between US DEA agents and the Mexican National police and armed forces was essential. While it has not yet been determined whether he will be extradited to the US, the fact that Mexican authorities have not discarded this possibility shows a more mature, trusting relationship between neighbors than has been the case in the past.

To be sure, these important steps in regional integration do not mean that North America has reached the ideal. Critics are right to point out that NAFTA is quickly reaching obsolescence and should be revised and improved. In many aspects, North American foreign affairs are still handled as three different, separate bilateral relationships rather than a multilateral one. And all three countries seem to acknowledge that the Trans Pacific Partnership – a significant step forward for the region – is not moving ahead as quickly as they would want.

But focusing too much on what the region has not yet achieved can end up concealing the opportunities that have been opened and the strong relationships that have been built. Thanks to the joint efforts of governments and business, the North American automobile industry is now taking full advantage of geographic proximity and complementary wage rates to create a highly competitive regional industry. The aerospace industry is in the process of doing the same, and the energy sector has begun its first steps toward a similar destination.

The aggregate numbers point in the same positive direction. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, foreign direct investment in North America has risen from $110 billion per year in 1992 to $650 billion per year in 2010. In just two years, from 2010 to 2012, OECD data show that North American trade almost doubled – increasing from $288.2 billion in 2010 to $547.3 billion in 2012. And, every day, around $3 billion worth of goods cross NAFTA’s borders.

While the North American Leaders Summit did not produce any exciting announcements, it did mark an important sign of progress in the pursuit of a more integrated trilateral relationship. And even though the evolution of the region from three separate economies to a coherent economic bloc is still relatively in its infancy, we should not ignore the growing strength of the relationship and the exciting opportunities that this renewed partnership is creating on the horizon.