Dear friends,

Mexico, the United States, and Canada are moving forward to build the foundation of the North American economy. You all know the specifics, and I will not bore you with the figures.

Tonight, I just want to highlight one specific area of concern and opportunity that I hope we will not overlook. That is the persistence of prejudices, stereotypes, and misperceptions that often taint conversations on the bilateral relationship between Mexico and the United States.

I was in Chicago just last week, and I had the opportunity to look at a survey prepared by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs about how Mexicans and Americans view each other. I want to quickly highlight a couple of findings:

  • Two decades since the implementation of NAFTA, Americans and Mexicans have grown more positive about the impact of NAFTA on their countries. But both—and especially Americans—still think the other country benefits more from the deal.
  • A majority of Mexicans continue to express a positive view of the United States, while American views of Mexico are at their lowest level since 1994, with fewer than four in ten viewing it favorably.

According to the survey, there seems to be a disconnect between the recognition of the mutual benefits derived from our bilateral relationship and the lack of affection many Americans feel toward Mexico.

But this is what I found most interesting and revealing from the survey results:

  • Almost half of the Americans surveyed have visited Mexico. In contrast, less than 20 percent of Mexicans have been to the United States.
  • Not only that, but travel across the border tends to correlate positively with favorable opinions of the other country and the economic ties between them.
  • Those Americans who have visited Mexico or have close contacts to someone born in Mexico, express a more favorable view of the country than non-visitors.

So, while our economies are strongly bound together, not by government design but by industries that have understood how competitive our North American region really is, perceptions are an issue to be addressed.

A great part of the successful economic integration of North America will depend on its people. Mexicans, Americans and Canadians need to understand each other better. People in the region must feel at ease doing business with each other.

Just last month, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Mexican Secretary of Foreign relations José Antonio Meade formally launched the Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research (FOBESII; for its Spanish acronym), a shared vision for educational cooperation with a view to expanding economic opportunities in both countries and developing a workforce attuned to the needs of the 21st century economy.

But educational exchanges, of students, teachers and researchers alike, will do more than help us develop a sophisticated 21st century workforce. They will also be instrumental in overcoming stereotypes and prejudices, while helping our societies build deeper, long-lasting relationships.

In Spanish we have two different words for the verb “to be”, ser and estar. With that in mind, Mexico, es Latin America but está in North America. Mexico is committed to its North American future.

Thank you, Duncan, for inviting me to give these brief remarks. I am certain that the Institute will play a major role in shaping the North American idea.

Thank you.