H. E. Eduardo Medina-Mora
Ambassador of Mexico to the United States
FOCus Conference – Keynote Speech
Professor David Kennedy
Professor Martin Carnoy
Jorge Olarte, President of FoCUS Stanford
Alejandro Navarro, President of FoCUS ITAM
Distinguished professors, researchers and students,
It truly is an honor and a pleasure to be able to address the audience this morning, and to begin the program that Jorge Olarte and Alejandro Navarro have put together with great dedication. They must be commended for their commitment and their resolve to making things happen.
Albert Einstein said that “imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Now saying imagination is more important than knowledge may seem like a cruel thing to say in a university, and especially to students who have spent many sleepless nights hitting the books…
No job must seem farther from the realm of the imagination than that of an Ambassador. But you would be surprised by how much I need to exercise my imagination on the job. Today, I want to talk to you about a conundrum, about the area in which I believe I must exercise my imagination the most, about a seemingly insurmountable obstacle we face and how I think we can work through it.
I have come to realize in the nine months I have been here in the United States that in every conversation, policy decision and diplomatic exchange, the backdrop for those decisions and conversations is the perception that Americans have of Mexicans and vice versa. Now, you are all serious thinkers and might be put off by the fact that I am talking about perceptions and not about facts, but in reality, I have come to observe that facts rarely speak for themselves.
A senior energy researcher I recently met told me that she had as many designers on her team as she had economists. The reason for that, she said, is that figures need to be expressed in certain ways to be convincing. She is totally right.
I have taken many flights to many cities and spoken to many audiences. I do my homework and I make sure that my team and I have updated information on all aspects of the bilateral relationship, and yet I know that in the back of peoples’ minds, when I speak of Mexico, they have already made up their minds about what Mexico means to them. Unfortunately, although we share a border thousands of kilometers long, millions of people and billions of dollars in trade, people still, very often, don’t truly see the breadth and complexity of Mexico.
That begs this question: if we have truly jaw-dropping numbers (such as the fact that Mexican companies invest more in the United States than all the middle eastern countries together, or that Mexican tourists spend more money in the United States than American tourists in Mexico), why do people still see Mexico as a dusty, barren land just this side of purgatory? And why, on the other side of the border, do we, Mexicans, look at the US with suspicion?
The answer is because we don’t know each other well enough. So, let me lay out some of the figures:
Bilateral trade between Mexico and the United States has grown to almost 500 billion dollars. In 2012, total US exports to Mexico reached 217 billion dollars, which is more than US exports to Japan and China combined, or to all the BRICS combined, and almost as much as to the European Union. The White House estimates that 6 million jobs in the US depend on exports to Mexico. And by the way, goods that the US imports from Mexico have, on average, 40 percent US content. Imports from China have 4 percent US content. So by comparison... 4 to 40.
This last detail is important because I would venture to guess that few Americans know the extent to which the United States and Mexico compete together as one unit in the global economy. The United States and Mexico (as well as Canada), build things together to sell here and abroad. While the tag may say Made in Mexico or Made in the United States, more and more, those products are actually just Made in North America and the label should reflect that. To put it simply, in the paradigm of the new global economy, the interests of Mexico and the United States are aligned because we build and export things together.
The world economy is changing, and big trade blocks—like the TPP and the Pacific Alliance—are being organized around the world. Mexico, by virtue of the fact that we have more free trade agreements than almost any other nation on the planet, is the only country of the emerging economies which is a player with all those trade blocks.
So it is obvious that economics bind us and that will be increasingly true going forward. Other issues, like migration, are also part of our relationship. Meanwhile, Mexico has been changing. The Mexican middle class grew by more than 11 percentage points between 2000 and 2010. In twenty years, Mexico´s GDP has tripled. Since 1980, the number of Mexican students receiving a higher education has also tripled. In terms of demographics, Mexico and the US have very similar fertility rates—2.2 for Mexico and 2.08 for the US—and these trends are having an impact on migration from Mexico to the United States, which is now close to zero. The truth is, looking forward, the demographic trends of North America, like other prosperous regions, will require sustained efforts to achieve voluntary, safe, legal and orderly migration from other parts of the world.
So the real problem is not that we lack the numbers to justify Mexico’s rightful place in North America; what we lack is a narrative. What can we say our relationship to the region of North America is? How can we express its potential and make it achievable by re-imagining it? Just like the fiction of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein created a vision of the future for scientists to realize, so must we create a vision for our relationship that is constructive and desirable.
Part of that vision will involve constructing a new narrative about Mexico and Mexicans, and your presence at prestigious universities like Stanford is already helping to write it. But while your graduation from a top university might help dispel a few stereotypes about who Mexicans are, more will be required of you. You must use the knowledge you have gained here at Stanford to feed your imagination and find innovative ways to achieve the future you envision.
Each of your lives and careers will be a narrative unto itself, and those narratives combined will help tell a new story about Mexicans and Mexico. And as I look at you here today, I believe that story will be one of achievement and prosperity. The future is yours, but to earn it you have to imagine it.