Learning how to be an ambassador is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life. In fact, in some ways the transition from my positions in the Mexican cabinet to that of ambassador were more difficult than my transition from businessman to Director of National Intelligence.

American writer Ambrose Bierce once defined an ambassador as "a person who having failed to secure an office from the people is given one by the Administration on condition that he leave the country”.

I have never been a politician, so that was not quite my problem, but for many years, I was responsible for shaping policy, so it was a difficult transition for me. Ambassadors are not policymakers—we are facilitators. Our job is to facilitate dialogue, and build conversations. Our job is to engage with the country in which we are stationed at a deeper level on behalf of our government.

So why was that transition so hard for me, then? Well, frankly because, for me, there is hardly a more exhilarating enterprise than designing and implementing policy. I know most of you here are or will be policy enthusiasts and, so I feel at home with you as an audience.

Unlike some of you, I never anticipated that my career would be so entwined with government when I was young law student. In fact, I started my professional life as a businessman. At the time, my ambitions were clear: I wanted to become an independent, experienced, successful businessman. Somehow, however, I kept managing to get involved in public affairs. In the early nineties, for example, I represented the private sector as a lawyer in the NAFTA negotiations.

Negotiations like NAFTA are complex, not just because of the many different interests involved, but because large-scale transformation and change often scare people. Moreover, NAFTA was ultimately about the long-term interests of our three countries, and long-term interests often have difficulty competing with the immediate interests of the short-term. It takes not only people with vision, but people with an ability to articulate that vision in a way that allows others to see it as well, giving them hope for what the future can become.  And yes, I am thinking of a certain man from Arkansas for whom the School of Public Service here is named. President Clinton was indeed one of several such visionaries in our three countries who were able to see beyond the interests and politics of the moment to something greater. With all the political noise that surrounds NAFTA, it can be difficult to think about it clearly, but the keys facts are these:

  • Twenty years after the implementation of the agreement, trade between NAFTA countries has more than tripled.
  • US-Mexico trade was at $500 billion last year.
  • 6 million jobs in the United States depend on US exports to Mexico.
  • The integrated supply and production chains that NAFTA brought about make our region more competitive in the global economy.

Several years after my work on the NAFTA negotiation team, my career in the private sector took a sharp turn in a different direction.  President Fox and his interior minister had been advised to hire someone with management skills from outside the intelligence community to head Mexico's National Intelligence Agency. I was soon surprised to find myself appointed to President Fox's cabinet as Head of National Intelligence, and after a few initial doubts I must say I think I did a pretty good job.

In many ways, managing in government is no different from managing a business—there are resources to deploy, personnel to supervise, and structures to organize. Management skills are of paramount importance in public service, and nowhere is that more true in Mexico than in security matters.

In the same way that small businesses must sometimes battle stiff competition from established competitors, police forces are often tasked with confronting criminal organizations with more capital and greater numbers. In both cases, managerial decisions about how to best deploy resources in order to gain a tactical advantage are everything. Similarly, without good management, all the resources in the world will ultimately not lead to success.

The same thing is true in our bilateral relationship. Our region has been blessed with an abundance of resources, but it is up to us to ensure we take advantage of them. I would say that the bilateral goals of Mexico and the United States are clear: the construction of a 21st Century regional manufacturing platform that develops the potential of our nations to become the most prosperous region in the world in the next two decades. We have the elements to achieve this: geography, resources and people. Now we need to shape the policy to go with it.

I am often asked whether I think US foreign policy pays enough attention to Mexico. My answer is that we don’t really need foreign policy attention from the US because we have such a vibrant, dynamic, and intense bilateral relationship that we cannot really frame our relationship in a foreign policy context. “Foreign” policy almost seems like the wrong word given the degree to which our economies and our people are bound together. Our bilateral relationship must continue to develop policies which recognize that our interconnectedness makes us stronger.

In developing those policies, we would be foolish not to take advantage of those who can play special roles in regional integration due to their natural skill set. Many of you may have seen recent stories announcing that California now has a Hispanic majority in terms of population. Most of those Hispanics are Mexican, and are in many cases, bilingual, binational, and bicultural, born in the era of globalization and the Internet, a NAFTA generation. What’s more, their thinking is not burdened by the same old stereotypes that have long prevented our two countries from becoming closer.

In fact, my children are very much a part of that generation. My son, Nicolás, just graduated from Yale and now works as a reporter for BuzzFeed in New York. He is every bit as comfortable writing and speaking in English as in Spanish. I could say the same for my other children Tomás and Camila.   In some ways they personify a new phase of the bilateral relationship that brings us to an important question: How should we respond to this development in a productive way that pays dividends for our region and our people?

That question goes to you policymakers. As I previously mentioned, I am no longer one of you, but I do have a few general suggestions: The way to respond to North America’s position in the global economy is to take advantage of the regional integration that makes us competitive. The way to respond to the unique characteristics of our human capital is through policies that unlock its potential rather than restricting it. The way to respond is to invest in new generations of capable leaders at places like the Clinton School for Public Service. In short, the way to respond is through policies that build bridges rather than walls. And I trust all you future policymakers out there will be up to the task.

Thank you.