3/15 – GlobalAtlanta.com – Mexican Ambassador on Immigration, Drug Violence and Trade

Mexican Ambassador on Immigration, Drug Violence and Trade.

Atlanta – 03.15.11
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Courtesy: Mexican Embassy
From left: City Councilman Kwanza Hall and Martin Luther King III look on as Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan speaks at the tomb of Martin Luther King Jr. in February.

With immigration bills swirling in the Georgia Legislature and the federal government seeking ways to grow exports, GlobalAtlanta spoke via email with Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico‘s ambassador to the U.S., about touchy border issues and how U.S. companies can continue to benefit by working with our neighbor to the south.

Despite reports of drug violence in Mexico and rancorous debate on illegal immigration, Mr. Sarukhan maintains that the border is an asset for both countries rather than a liability.

While visiting Atlanta in February, Mr. Sarukhan met with mayor Kasim Reed and local Mexican-American businesses.

In the interview below, he says that Mexico is the second largest buyer of U.S. exports. The country’s economy is growing at 5.5 percent, opening the door for companies like Atlanta-based Home Depot Inc. to expand there.

The ambassador also gives a lively defense of Nafta and outlines Mexico’s continued importance to the U.S. even as Asia ascends. For a summary, see Ambassador: Mexico Border is an Asset for the U.S.


GlobalAtlanta: While news reports these days might imply otherwise, you note that leaders on both sides have viewed the 3,000-kilometer border between the U.S. and Mexico as an asset rather than a liability. Why? What do Americans fail to understand about the role of the border in the relationship between the two countries?

Mr. Sarukhan: Mexico and the United States have been working together over the past two years in designing and implementing a truly holistic vision for managing our common border, a region of North America characterized by complex, dynamic, and bi-national social, cultural and economic connections.

Just last January, our Executive Steering Committee on Border Management held its inaugural meeting and adopted a Bilateral Action Plan. This plan features a series of concrete actions, including projects on infrastructure and risk management, and the evaluation of the potential use of the pre-clearance, pre-screening and pre-inspection of people, goods, and products. Moreover, our two governments agreed to develop a Global Entry pilot program to facilitate secure, legitimate travel between the two nations.

Indeed, 2010 was a true watershed in border infrastructure development. President Calderon inaugurated the Anzaldúas International Bridge, connecting McAllen, Texas, and Reynosa, Tamaulipas, in January 2010, effectively marking the end of a 10-year drought in border infrastructure development.

And we didn’t stop there. Mexico and the U.S. opened two more ports of entry in 2010: San Luis Rio Colorado, connecting Arizona and Sonora, and Rio Bravo-Donna, connecting Texas and Tamaulipas. Our two countries are pulling up our border infrastructure from the bootstraps in order to secure and facilitate lawful travel and movement of goods and people, while creating a safer environment that will let the bi-national communities that live along the Mexico-U.S. border continue to thrive.

We have to keep educating both the American and the Mexican people about the role of the border in the relationship between our two countries.


GlobalAtlanta: Nafta is often criticized in the U.S. as leading companies to ship jobs to Mexico, and in Mexico, it’s often seen as decimating farmers by introducing agricultural goods from the U.S. Are these views in line with reality, and is it your view that Nafta has been a success since it came into effect in 1994?

Mr. Sarukhan: No, these views are definitely not in line with reality. Nafta has brought Mexico and the U.S. closer than many realize. On any given day, the trade between Mexico and the U.S. tops $1 billion. Through Nafta we have contributed to each other’s growth and prosperity. The size of our economies has more than doubled since the treaty was signed and our trade has more than tripled. In 2010, the Nafta market represents $16.2 trillion in output.

So yes, you could say Nafta has been a remarkable success story for Mexico and the U.S., and also for Canada. It has contributed to significant increases in trade and investment flows between Canada, the United States and Mexico. It has benefited society, consumers and companies in all three countries, paving the way for boosting prosperity, new partnerships and new opportunities. As for the impact on employment levels, statistics in all three Nafta countries attest to no net job losses, 17 years after the treaty’s entry into force.


GlobalAtlanta: How important is the Mexican market, especially the emerging middle class, to American exporters? Are the benefits of our neighbor overlooked as companies look to other faraway emerging markets, especially in Asia?

We are the second largest purchaser of U.S. exports in the world and third largest trading partner. In 2010, U.S. exports to Mexico reached $129 billion, or over 12 percent of its exports worldwide, a remarkable increase of 27 percent over the previous year. The $31 billion increase alone is nearly three times the amount expected to be achieved from the entry into force of a U.S.-Korea FTA. Mexico buys more products from the U.S. than Japan and China together; 43 percent more than the combined im­ports from Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan; and more than the joint imports from the U.K., France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

For every dollar that Mexico earns from exports, 50 cents are spent on American goods, in comparison with the 6 cents China spends buying back U.S. goods. Moreover, U.S. valued-added in Mexico’s total manufacturing exports accounts for 35 percent of our total. This is significantly higher than the 3.4 percent of U.S. value-added in China’s total manufacturing exports. This hard data clearly shows the importance of the Mexican market for American companies.


GlobalAtlanta: Drug violence has been a fixture in recent news reports about Mexico. How is the Mexican government addressing the challenge of organized crime, and what is the U.S. role in the fight, especially with regard to controlling weapons and illicit money laundering?

Mr. Sarukhan: The government of Mexico is addressing the challenges posed by organized crime through a five-pronged comprehensive strategy:

1. Joint operations to support local authorities and citizens. It also seeks to contain and weaken criminal organizations.

2.  Ramp up the operative and technological capabilities of State police. The government of Mexico seeks to give state law-enforcement authorities the necessary tools to combat organized crime.

3.    Reform the legal and institutional framework, and strengthen Mexico’s judicial system.

4.    Active policy of crime prevention and enhancing social resilience. The social component aims to address some of the root issues related to crime in Mexico, through better awareness of problems related to drugs, the creation of alternatives for the youth and increased social participation.

5.   Strengthening international cooperation. The Mexican government seeks to confront transnational organized crime through international cooperative efforts based on the principle of shared responsibility.

One of the main axes of the Merida Initiative is the commitment by the U.S. to strengthen domestic efforts to reduce drug consumption and to stop the trafficking of weapons and bulk cash from the U.S. into Mexico. The U.S. government has allocated increased human and financial resources to addressing these issues. However, we all recognize that efforts to disrupt the illegal flow of weapons and bulk cash to Mexico need to be strengthened.


GlobalAtlanta: Should the prospect of violence deter cross-border business deals? Has the perception of Mexico as a dangerous place hindered Mexico’s interaction with U.S. businesspeople?

Mr. Sarukhan: Drug-related violence in Mexico is focalized in 3 main states: Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas. In 2010, 70 percent of violent homicides or homicides allegedly related to organized crime were committed in seven states. Mexico has 32 states. The phenomenon has not deterred business activity with the U.S or any other international partner.


GlobalAtlanta: Tell us about your visit to Georgia and what it entailed. Our state has a large number of immigrants, many of them illegal, many not. Does our state have a special role in the U.S. relationship with Mexico with regard to immigration?

Mr. Sarukhan: I was in Atlanta as part of an ongoing strategy I established since becoming ambassador to the U.S. in 2007, tailored to reach out to states and cities outside the Beltway, which I believe have become critical stakeholders and central players in our bilateral relationship.

I met with Mayor Kasim Reed, with representatives of leading companies based in Atlanta, with Mexican-American leaders and entrepreneurs, and I paid tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., laying a wreath at the King Center.

Unlike some pundits that falsely propose that immigrants come to the U.S. to take jobs and benefits, it has been proven over and over again that they give way more to the system than what they take, and that they come to this country to work. Georgia is living proof of how migrants have contributed to the economic growth, and the social and cultural vitality of the state.


GlobalAtlanta: What is the solution for illegal immigration from Mexico into the U.S.?

Mr. Sarukhan: There are no simple and cookie-cutter solutions to a complex phenomenon that has deep roots on both sides of our common border and in our interdependent economies and societies. Mexico is doing its part to create more jobs, attract investment and develop competitive opportunities for our citizens to remain in our country. We all need to continue fostering a coolheaded and constructive debate, with active participation and committed bipartisan and bi-national dialogue.

I will continue to underscore what I have been saying for the past four years: that only a holistic approach to border management will provide a sensible option to promote legal, safe and orderly migration flows, and that the best way to enhance border security is through comprehensive immigration reform. Immigrants are not criminals, and they are not a threat to the U.S. They are, for the most part, hard-working individuals who come to this country to build a better future for themselves and their families.


GlobalAtlanta: Mexico’s economy grew at 5.2 percent last year as others struggled to recover from the recession. What are the sectors in which Georgia exporters or investors can best take advantage of this strong growth?

Mr. Sarukhan: Mexico grew at a healthy 5.5 percent in 2010, which translates into an $11 billion increase in U.S. exports to Mexico, generating 66,000 jobs. This figure represents 16 percent of the 400,000 export-related jobs the U.S. needs to create every year to achieve the goals of the National Export Initiative, which President Obama launched in his 2010 State of the Union address.

In fact, one Atlanta-based company has taken advantage of the strong recovery in Mexico’s domestic market. This is the case of Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, which currently operates more than 90 stores in Mexico (7 of them inaugurated in 2010) and which plans to open eight more during 2011 for a total of 100 stores in the country. Mexico is the only foreign market in which Home Depot has registered continued growth for 26 consecutive quarters.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, bilateral trade between Mexico and Georgia in 2009 reached $4.267 billion. In that year Georgia’s exports to Mexico were worth $1.36 billion. Our country is Georgia’s fourth trading partner, after China, Canada, and Germany, respectively.


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