Ambassador Martha Bárcena’s Remarks at Mr. South Texas Luncheon.
February 22nd, 2020
I am humbled and honored to receive this recognition that showcases the closeness of our ties at a very important time.
I want to thank the Washington’s Birthday Celebration Association and the International Bank of Commerce for putting together this great event.
I also want to thank Mayor of Laredo, Pete Saenz, the officials that work at the City of Laredo and the rest of the business community leaders and special guests that join us here today.
American writer James Baldwin used to say that “the past is all that makes the present coherent”. Today, I believe that the present of Laredo and the U.S. cannot be understood without its shared history with Mexico.
Texas is close to us because its history is closely intertwined with Mexico and with Mexican and Latino immigrants in this country.
As the first female Ambassador of Mexico to the U.S., I have proudly repeated that the Latino community, and among them, the Mexican community, are the past, the present and the future of this country.
In fact, my own personal story reflects the stories of millions that live on either side of the border but comprise one close-knit community. My grandmother’s ancestors arrived from Europe in the Mayflower and finally settled in Texas. They were what Emma Lazarus brilliantly described as the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.
My great great grandfather, Leonard Pierce Jr., from Maine, served as President Lincoln's Consul in Matamoros, where he cared for the Confederate territory refugees and enlisted Union sympathizers. His family finally settled in Laredo, where my grandfather, a French immigrant, married Rachel Pierce Cushman. My grandmother, Claire Jannet Pierce was born here in 1904. The family migrated to Mexico later on, but other part of the family stayed here.
That is why, the last time I was here I got to visit a school that bears the name of my great aunt, Alma Allerton Pierce Elementary.
I can feel this sense of fellowship, supported by a binational, bilingual and bicultural community, that is so characteristic of Laredo.
Our border is one of the busiest and most frequently crossed international borders in the world, but it is way more than a customs and immigration checkpoint.
When we talk about the border, we are also talking about us. We are talking about people that move, that invest, that shop and that socialize across the boundary line.
When we talk about the border we talk about ranchers, railroad builders, miners, investors and immigrants. We talk about thousands of people who cross the border every single day in both directions to work, conduct business, attend school or get medical treatment.
When I come to the border, I see an environment of opportunity defined by social and commercial exchanges, and of common natural landscapes. I also see it as the symbol of our economic stature as a region. Together, the 10 Border States would constitute the world’s 4th largest economy.
We are neighbors by geography, but partners and allies by choice. In less than a century, we transformed mistrust into a strong, collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship.
Our special partnership has made us grow together and prosper together. Today, the great state of Texas has witnessed firsthand the benefits of the close trade with Mexico, twenty-eight years after NAFTA was signed here in San Antonio.
Under NAFTA, exports from Texas to Mexico increased 350%. In a striking comparison, Texas’ exports to Mexico are greater than all U.S. exports to Japan and India combined.
Mexico is Texas main trading partner, its first export destination and its number one source of imports.
Our bilateral trade rose to more than 200 billion dollars in 2019 and there are almost half a million Texans whose jobs depend on trade with Mexico.
Moving forward, we are confident that NAFTA successor, the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, USMCA or TMEC, will be a strategic component for economic growth in North America and the ongoing creation of opportunities in cities like Laredo.
With the passing of USMCA, we accomplished three additional objectives:
1)To support North America’s competitiveness, with rules of origin that strengthen regional value chains
2) To increase trade and investments, and
3) To restore certainty and stability
Now is the time for implementation and as Laredo is the main port for bilateral trade we have multiple challenges ahead, particularly in the area of infrastructure and personnel for the port, to be able to grasp the opportunities that we have ahead of us.
But when I talk about infrastructure is not only the ports of entry, it’s water sanitation, ant it is also realizing that we share a common environment and discussing how are we going to deal with the challenges that a border wall will bring to that environment.
We have shared this environment for centuries, and this construction can change it permanently. This is something that we have to reflect on, because, above all, the wall will be a symbol that will separate us, while our rivers, our landscape and our bridges had united us.
Mexico is well aware that all of the opportunities that stand before us cannot be fully seized, and will not be fully seized, without a careful reconsideration of the difficulties that lie ahead.
There is no silver bullet that will resolve all of our challenges overnight, but we are confident that we are moving in the right direction.
Today, the U.S.-Mexico relationship is at a crossroads, and the decisions that we take from now on will impact the direction of both our countries and the lives of millions of people.
We have sensitive pending issues like migration, where reality requires that we see it, not as a national security problem, but as a phenomenon that can allow us to establish a link between demographic profiles and labor markets.
We are convinced of the necessity of a continuous dialogue, especially on divisive issues, because as long as we remain neighbors, American and Mexican futures will be intertwined.
The role of cities like the two Laredos, its community and its values are key in this shared future.
Thank you very much.