Tuesday, April 14, 2009

President's Visit to Mexico Comes at Pivotal Point in Bilateral Relations

/PRNewswire/ -- As ambassador, when government officials visited Mexico, I'd pen a one-pager offering current insight into the bilateral relationship and timely assessments of the economic, political and social situation in the country.

With President Barack Obama's visit April 16-17 to Mexico City, I offer him a similar memo, with advice I hope he's hearing from his own team of advisors.

And, so I begin, Mister President:

U.S. and Mexico relations are at a pivotal point, and in spite of the challenges our countries face from economic and security threats, we must look for ways to forge stronger partnerships and encourage investment by U.S. and Mexican companies in both countries.

The failed state talk that so dominated our headlines these past few months has subsided somewhat, and--I hope--will continue to fade. It was rhetoric that did more to harm our two nations than produce meaningful progress.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saw firsthand, Mexico is far from finished in its fight against the transnational drug cartels, but there are clear signs of progress and far more awareness in the United State of our own responsibility to reduce consumption and stop the flow of arms to Mexico.

In President Felipe Calderon's first two years in office, the Mexican government has arrested more criminals and seized more weapons, drugs and cash than the previous two administrations over the same period.

Make no mistake, the country is not as safe as it needs to be, but unfair comparisons have been made and substantial progress overlooked. While tragic, drug war fatalities are concentrated largely in areas where cartels war over territory, but the country's homicide rate remains 13 percent below 1997 statistics, and far lower than many other countries in the region.

Our nations are inextricably tied to one another, and we must not only understand this fact, but leverage it for our respective economies, our security and our people.

In spite of its critics, the North American Free Trade Agreement has benefited the United States. Since NAFTA's implementation in 1994, U.S. exports to Mexico have increased by 198 percent. Our countries trade at a pace of nearly $1 billion each day, and bilateral trade totaled more than $367 billion in 2007. Tourism remains a strong economic driver, with more than 21 million visiting Mexico each year, the vast majority from the U.S.

Mr. President, we must focus on trade, and specifically, show leadership and fairness on the trucking provisions in NAFTA. If we don't, we run the risk of further retaliation with additional tariffs on U.S. products, which only jeopardize American jobs. We must stand firm against protectionist measures that would further stifle both countries' economic growth.

These difficult economic times should not lead the U.S. to shy away from investments in Mexico, nor should Mexican companies be afraid to explore opportunities to the north.

Key reforms by Mexico's government in the past two years reaffirm the country's commitment to competitiveness, to job creation and improved living standards.

You've stated your commitment to comprehensive immigration reform, but it's going to take a lot of hard work and political capital to push reform to reality. It's an uphill battle, as President George W. Bush found out, but it's a battle we should wage.

Mr. President, your visit to Mexico could come at no better time. You should view Mexico as your getaway to the Americas, a perfect bridge both north and south. Take this opportunity to draw on the key regional insights that President Calderon can offer.

Lastly, as you prepare for the upcoming Summit of the Americas, a clearly focused and energetic approach to Mexico relations should be among your highest priorities. Regional security and prosperity is critical to Mexico, and perhaps even more critical to the United States.

Antonio O. Garza, Jr. is the former United States Ambassador to Mexico. He is online at www.tonygarza.com.

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