Comentario inicial de la Embajadora Martha Bárcena en la 12th Annual Great Decisions Conference: The United States and Mexico – A Partnership Tested.

Auditorio 3M, Carlson School of Management

4 de octubre de 2019


It is a pleasure to be here today at the Carlson School of Management of the University of Minnesota joined by Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow and Fred de Sam Lazaro.

The title of the conference is very apt, because 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 found ourselves at a particular time in history, were facts and reality are being regularly contested, in a way we haven’t witnessed before in a very long time.

This is why it is critical to continue openly debating the pressing issues that we face, and you, students and academics, are in a position of privilege to do this.

If you look at the history of bilateral relationships around the world, you will notice that there are few bilateral relationships that have managed to do what Mexico and the U.S. did in less than a century: transform their old patterns of enmity into a strong, collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship.

One of the foundations of this transformation was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed in 1994. NAFTA reshaped the economies of the North American countries with far reaching implications for both North American companies and North American consumers.

Twenty-five years after its entry into force, United States’ trade with Mexico has more than tripled, growing more rapidly than American trade with the rest of the world. Together with Canada, we managed to create the world’s largest free trade area in the world, comprised by 450 million people, that turned North America into a trade powerhouse worth almost 1.3 trillion dollars.

In that period of time, Mexico embarked in a modernization effort that increased its competitiveness, strengthen its institutional democratic regime and expanded the social rights for its population. Mexico is now the largest Spanish speaking democracy in the world and the 15th largest economy.

Last year, Mexico elected its first leftist President in the history of the Republic, Andres Manuel López Obrador, who maintains that our level of social and economic integration made cooperation between Mexicans and Americans a necessity.


Anti-Americanism in Mexico, once prevalent in the country, has faded away, and it is a common sight to see American tourists feeling at home when they visit our country. In fact, almost 2 million Americans live in Mexico now.

The larger point I am trying to make is that behind the grim tales about Mexico that dominate the media these days, there is a thriving and globally competitive country whose people, communities and trade are intimately tied to the United States.

Bilateral relationships are not always easy but I believe that, overall, the U.S. has benefited greatly from its geographical proximity to Mexico. Mexico is now the U.S.’ first trading partner.

Today, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the jobs of five million American workers depend on U.S.-Mexico trade... five million people. That is almost every single person living in Minnesota (5.6 millones de habitantes).

Furthermore, thanks to our economic integration, the U.S. can compete globally. On any given day, goods cross our border back and forth, increasing the productive capacity of the U.S. to export more goods and services to other regions in the world.

This doesn’t mean we are ignorant of the significant tests —as the name of this conference suggested—that remain on the road ahead.

Mexico subscribed to the Wilsonian principles that paved the way for the creation of the United Nations and consolidated the liberal world order we are still living in. We are concerned that a United States in retreat can embolden nativist forces in detriment of our shared values around the world.

Another issue is that our cooperation in migration and the way we think about migrants and their legitimate pleas for assistance will resonate around the world in the future to come. Our priority is and will remain to achieve a safe, orderly and regular migration, that protects and humanizes migrants.

Moreover, the way we address our common border will continue to have an impact in our perceptions of our overall relationship. To be clear, legitimate security concerns have captured the narrative of one of the busiest and most frequently crossed international borders in the world.

Mexico is convinced that the security of the border is primordial because it cannot thrive without the most basic security guarantees. However, while the security focus helps us see many things what it hides is crucial: our border is an environment of opportunity defined by social and commercial exchanges, and of common natural landscapes.

Yes, the border is a customs and immigration checkpoint, but it is way more than that. At different times, the border is a marker of national identities, a site of transborder trade, a home to binational, bicultural and bilingual communities, and also a symbol of our economic stature as a region.

Looking forward, we hope that NAFTA successor, USMCA will pass the U.S. Congress and will remain a strategic component for economic growth in North America and the ongoing creation of opportunities in both our countries.

I believe that our economic, social, and cultural integration is so deep and decentralized that, just as President López Obrador said, cooperation will be acknowledged even more as a true necessity for both.

According to several economic forecasts, including a special report made by the Economist Intelligence Unit, in 2050 Mexico will become the 8th largest economy in the world, surpassing countries like Italy, France and the UK. This is also the potential that a country like Mexico will continue to bring to the bilateral relationship.

It is up to us to define our relationship not by the challenges we face, but by the prosperity and opportunities we can create together.                                                                        …continúa

That is, perhaps, the biggest pending topic: to construct a new narrative that actually reflects all of the things that we can achieve together.

Thank you very much.