U.S. and Mexico leaders advocated working together on a common agenda
that will bring economic benefits to Mexico, the United States and the border
region during a conference Wednesday in El Paso.
Among the keynote speakers at the conference were E. Anthony Wayne, U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Eduardo Medina Mora, the Mexican ambassador to the United States, and John Dimitri Negroponte, chairman of the Council of the Americas and a former U.S. ambassador and intelligence official.
All three said Mexico and the United States made considerable gains from the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement that eliminated tariffs between the U.S., Canada and Mexico over a 15-year period.
"Two decades after having been signed, and brought into force, NAFTA, I believe, is a true success story, but I believe that more can be done to facilitate trade in our region," said Negroponte, who, along with Medina was involved in the trade treaty's early negotiations.
"We're also interested in highlighting the economic opportunities in the United States-Mexico relationship, which has been dominated in recent years by news of narcotics and violence," Negroponte said. "I think it is a challenge to penetrate that mind-set in this country, but we must keep working on it, and get people to focus on the fact that there are many, many exciting opportunities in the United States-Mexico relationship."
The leaders spoke to an audience at the University of Texas at El Paso that included business leaders, academicians, students and government officials from both sides of the border.
Other speakers included U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, UTEP President Diana Natalicio and El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar. El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser and Juarez Mayor Hector Murguia also attended.
O'Rourke echoed comments by Negroponte that the border needs to be managed intelligently so that legitimate trade can cross easily while officials maintain a high level of security.
"There's no relationship more important than the relationship with Mexico," said Wayne, former U.S. deputy ambassador to Afghanistan and ex-U.S. ambassador to Argentina.
Wayne said President Barack Obama's recent visit to Mexico led to agreements for future high-level economic meetings and emphasis on the role of education in economic progress. Medina said he views himself as a businessman despite having served in key security roles in Mexico as federal attorney general, federal public security secretary and director of Mexico's CISEN (Center for Research and National Security).
The Mexican ambassador said U.S. immigration reform is considered a domestic rather than a bilateral issue of the U.S. government, although Mexico remains concerned that its citizens are treated with respect in the United States.
Regarding U.S. immigration reform, Medina said, "Whatever helps the United States to grow better will help Mexico." He also said that Mexico's declining fertility rate (7.3 births to 2.2 births) means that Mexico will not be a major source of immigration to the United States in the future.
Wayne said the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, already the U.S. government's largest visa issuing center, would get busier if Congress passes immigration reform.
During a question-and-answer period, audience members voiced concerns about "buy America" campaigns in the United States, the scarcity of water in the border region and Northern Mexico, and about drug violence and regulations that make it difficult to make purchases in Mexico with dollars.
Wayne said new regulations are trying to keep tabs on billions of dollars from illicit activities that are floating around, and that Mexico is exploring drug courts to possibly deal with minor drug violations and addictions.
According to USA Today, the Mexican government in 2010 capped the amount of dollars foreigners can trade for pesos at banks and money exchangers to no more than $1,500 per month. The rule designed to reduce money-laundering by organized criminals led to confusion and to retailers being unwilling to accept dollars for products and services.
"We need to keep learning from each other" Wayne said. "Neither of us can solve it (drug-trafficking) alone."
Medina said "buy America" practices would have to comply with NAFTA provisions when it comes to trade within the free trade countries. As for drug-trafficking, he said, "It's a huge problem," but added that Mexico and the United States have moved away from the finger-pointing of the past. "We need a holistic approach to the issue."
Wayne said there is a great need for long-term planning for water resources, and Medina said Mexico does not have a major agricultural industry because of the country's limited water availability.
Sponsors to the event titled "Border Conference on the U.S.-Mexico Competitiveness Agenda" included the Council of the Americas, Grupo Omnilife, Borderplex Alliance, Angelissima and McLarty Associates. Negroponte noted that David Rockefeller, an American business magnate, founded the Council of the Americas in 1965 to promote free trade, democracy and open markets. O'Rourke said he welcomed the opportunity that the conference offers to point to the positive aspects of the U.S.-Mexico border instead of focusing only on security concerns.
The border "is the epicenter of U.S.-Mexico issues, the most critical place to be when you're talking about binational relations, trade, immigration, border security," O'Rourke said, "and the solutions to the problems that we have seen plague the border in our countries for decades."
(c)2013 El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
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