Good Morning. It is a great privilege to join the conversation on a topic of great relevance and significance for North America: Our shared border.
As anyone whose taken a look at this book, Managing Borders in an Increasingly Borderless World can see, the 21st century is set to be a challenging time for us in the business of managing borders, particularly those as multifaceted as the one between the United States and Mexico.
The border between our two countries is an inflection point where the intense interaction of commerce, people, and cultures, explode into a dynamic confluence of effervescent exchange. Beyond bilingual, beyond binational, beyond bicultural, the U.S. - Mexico border is a world in and of itself. Along our shared 2,000 mile border, there are 14 million inhabitants in an area that includes 6 Mexican States and 4 U.S. States, which would represent the world’s 4th largest economy, just to mention a few of the elements that constitute this unique and vibrant bilateral relationship between the United States and Mexico. Our relationship is one of the most complex in the world, and there may not be two countries that rely on each other more. In order to put things in perspective let me say that as we speak, a million dollars per minute is being traded across our common border; that translates to around 1.3 billion dollars per day.
The border region is the lifeline of our joint economic future and it’s time to embrace that, but we have some work to do in that department. As a good friend of mine, the former United States Assistant Secretary of Commerce said not long ago: “Mexico and the United States have 21st Century trade, with a 20th Century legal framework, and a 19th Century border infrastructure”. I agree with him. Let me explain why.
More than 500 billion dollars in trade circulates between us each year, but a lack of key infrastructure is still keeping us from reaching our true potential. The border crossings between Mexico and the United States are some of the busiest in the world, with 56 ports of entry and around 300,000 vehicle crossings taking place daily, but many of those entry points still need to be brought into the 21st century. Our economic integration makes us stronger, and that means we must streamline customs procedures and invest in infrastructure to reduce border wait times, which cost us billions of dollars per year.
We are making some progress in that arena. Cities like San Diego and Tijuana are increasingly intertwined, and together they have become a hub for high tech manufacturing. A new southbound crossing at Tijuana—San Ysidro, “El Chaparral” is in operation, expanding capacity and using non-intrusive inspection devices to facilitate the movement of people and goods. Another item on the infrastructural agenda is the construction of a pedestrian access point in the United States to the international airport in Tijuana to create an effectively binational airport.
Nevertheless, these are just the first few of many steps yet to be made. We need a 21st century border infrastructure that reflects our interconnected economies and continues to facilitate cross border trade and tourism.
But the border is not just about trade numbers; it’s about our people. It may be difficult for those who live outside the border area to fully appreciate the economic, social, and cultural effects that living in the region has on inhabitants of these border states, because despite the line that legally divides the two countries, the people both north and south of that line are truly North American neighbors.
Naturally, to talk about the border is to talk about migration and consequently, its legal framework. In the context of the deep and constant commercial exchanges between us, both our countries need a 21st century legal framework that helps boost our economic ties while unlocking the potential of our labor force rather than restricting it. As the authors of Managing Borders in an Increasingly Borderless World suggest, disappearing economic frontiers present extraordinary challenges for governments trying to manage the secure flow of goods and people in an age where economic forces demand movement while security concerns demand strict attention to detail. Innovative new measures such as Trusted Traveler programs that are part of the U.S.-Mexico 21st Century Border Management Initiative, should prove to be valuable assets to meet those challenges.
The elephant in the room at discussions like this is, of course, immigration reform. Since the beginning of the debate in the United States on possible reforms last year, the Government of Mexico has reiterated that we understand that immigration reform in this country is a domestic issue and that we will be absolutely respectful of the political and legislative processes that must ultimately decide the course this nation will take with respect to immigration. At the same time, we have also stressed our view that reform would be beneficial to the social fabric of the United States given that it could enhance the already significant contributions of immigrants, including those of millions of Mexican nationals. As many of you know, this is not an “if” but a “when” issue. Therefore, whenever immigration reform is approved, there will certainly be a need to work together on a wide range of areas, from crossings to screening mechanisms that foster secure and orderly flows paramount to regional competitiveness.
Things have been changing in the last 20 years. You have all seen recent studies that show migration from Mexico to the United States dropped substantially in the last few years, coupled with larger flows back to Mexico resulting in close to zero flows for the first time in decades. And while the economic recovery in the US might increase the so called “pull factor”, Mexico will not be the main source of new immigrants in the years to come. These trends are a reflection of sustained economic development in Mexico, an increase in the ranks of the middle class, changing demographics, and the strong cultural and social ties Mexicans have with their home country.
The population that lives along our border today has both much and little to do with that of the 19th or 20th centuries. Today our border communities are filled with young, talented people whom I might like to call new Border Millennials and who are, in many cases, bilingual, binational, and bicultural, born in the era of globalization and the Internet, a NAFTA generation. These Border Millennials share perspectives and beliefs that transcend nationalities and conquer stereotypes, thus facilitating new and adventurous interactions between North American neighbors. We need to take advantage of the young Border Millennials, who are building a new cultural identity, deepening long-standing ties between our communities, and who on a daily basis see the border as a conduit, rather than as a barrier.
It is also time to put our political will behind binational initiatives and programs designed to foster collaboration and a better understanding. Let me share a recent example: the workshop “U.S.-Mexico Border Region; Bridging the Cultural Divide”, that just took place in San Diego and brought together key regional leaders from the public sector to promote cultural awareness and enhance daily interactions between US authorities and the Mexican community in that area. I firmly believe that it is also our job to strengthen intangible, yet crucial “people to people connections” without which all the infrastructure in the world is rendered meaningless.
Twenty years after the implementation of NAFTA, the United States and Mexico, along with Canada, share integrated supply and production chains. We are building things together. I cannot emphasize this point enough: North America competes as one unit in the global economy, and the secure, free flow of goods and people across our common border is essential to our competitiveness.
In addition to the new economic reality in North America brought on by NAFTA, something else has happened in the years since the deal was inked: globalization. The economic playing field has broadened and competition around the globe has generated both challenges and opportunities where previously there were none; new markets have appeared and new competitors have emerged. If we want to take advantage of those opportunities and compete globally, we must first realize that the integration of our economies makes us stronger.
The transition of the Mexican economy into an open one has not been easy, but now with changes in the market that include rising wages in Asia and increasing worldwide energy costs versus the low transaction costs in Mexico and the United States—considering their proximity to one another—have led a considerable number of manufactures to choose Mexico over China. Moreover, diplomatic breakthroughs like the Transboundary Hydrocarbons Agreement between the United States and Mexico, along with the current domestic reforms in my country, have our region positioned to capitalize on our energy advantage. Those who recognize the potential of North America see a pool of talented human capital, low energy costs, and shared borders that provide access to the world's biggest markets. 21st century trade between NAFTA countries means we must see ourselves as others see us—as one economic region poised to be the most important major economic bloc of this century.
Our governments have made the border a key priority for the well-being of our people. In just under two weeks, Mexico will host President Obama and Prime Minster Harper at the North American Leaders’ Summit in Toluca. It will be the perfect occasion to bring new momentum to a North American economic integration where we think and act regionally and not just nationally. It is a very good sign that our governments understand that we must continue to build on the foundation that we laid some twenty years ago.
In closing, let me say that Mexico's long-term commitment to constructing a 21st century border that facilitates our economic, social, cultural, and political ties runs deep. Today, more than ever, it is clear that Mexico, the United States and Canada need each other to compete and prosper. Beyond a line that splits two nations is a land of opportunity waiting to embrace the changes of this new North American era.
Thank you very much.