Good evening. Before I begin my remarks I would first like to thank Mr. Bill Tucker for extending this very generous invitation for me to speak with you this evening. It is truly a pleasure to be with you all and have a chance to share a few things about Mexico and the current state of affairs between our two countries.
There may not be another bilateral relationship on the planet as complicated the relationship between Mexico and the United States, and there may not be two countries that are more important to one another. We share a border that is two-thousand miles long; we trade more than a billion dollars’ worth of goods and services per day; we share a complex history that still continues to shape our current reality; and above all, we share a people. Despite all that, we still don’t know each other as well as we should.
Not far from here, in the Library of Congress, there is a famous map called the Waldseemuller Map. The map is over 500 years old and is the first one of its kind to show the Americas as a separate land mass. If you look at it closely, you can see that the land that would make up modern Mexico is labeled as Terra Incognita. Of course we have better maps now, but even five centuries later I think Mexico is still Terra Incognita for many Americans.
When Americans ask themselves what Mexico means to them, their references are still too limited. They often fail to see the true diversity and depth of Mexico. We are neighbors, of course, but too often we are those neighbors that peer over the fence at each other rather than inviting each other over for dinner. That is one reason I am so grateful to have this opportunity to be with you here this evening. Events like this one give us a chance to engage with each other on a more intimate level where we can get a clear-eyed look at where we really are in our relationship and gain a better understanding of the challenges we face and the opportunities that await us.
The biggest opportunity before us is to consolidate North America as the world’s most competitive economic region. Because of the complementary nature of our two economies, the more we integrate, the more we see benefits on both side of the border. Mexico today is the third-largest trading partner of the United States. Our exports to the U.S. have increased more than 440% in the past two decades, and we import nearly as many products from the United States as all the countries of the European Union combined.
Those statistics are just part of the deep and broad economic relationship we share. We are more than just each other's clients--we are partners. The integration of our value chains means we no longer simply import and export finished goods to one another, we build things together through a joint production platform. A great example is the automotive industry. During the automobile production process, the different parts that go into building a finished vehicle cross the border seven times on average. The numbers for appliances, televisions, and more recently, the aerospace sector, are similar. More and more, things are not "Made in Mexico”, “Made in the USA”, or "Made in Canada”--they are simply “Made in North America”.
However, this integration is occurring despite the fact that we currently have a 21st century border with a 20th century legal framework on top of 19th century infrastructure. That is why, in order to reduce transaction costs, both our governments are investing in border infrastructure projects such as the new rail crossing between Matamoros and Brownsville. We are also taking action to improve logistics in places like the San Ysidro—Chaparral crossing, where wait-times have been reduced from three and a half hours to thirty minutes.
If we want to remain competitive we must also develop a labor force prepared to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future. That mutual recognition led us to create the Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research (FOBESII). US Secretary of State John Kerry and Mexican Secretary of Foreign Relations José Antonio Meade formally launched FOBESII in an effort to boost academic exchange between both our countries through programs addressing student mobility, research, and innovation in areas of shared interest to jump-start the competitiveness and economic development of the region.
But our integration is not just economic. One of the most important contemporary challenges for Mexicans and Americans alike is the need to investigate our roots and see how both countries have been, and continue to be shaped by migration. The histories of both our peoples are histories of movement, and that history shapes our contemporary lives and relationships to one another.
Today more than 34 million people of Mexican origin live in the United States. The Mexican-American community is economically, socially, and culturally linked to both our countries and will be a vehicle through which we can further our bilateral relationship moving forward. Here, our challenge is to understand this population whose identity, aspirations and destiny defy the stereotypes that many have formed about them. If we empower them and take advantage of their particular, though varied, links to both countries, they can serve as an important bridge between our two nations.
Along those lines, the Mexican-American community will benefit from the measures of executive action recently announced by president Obama and the coordinated efforts of our network of 50 consulates in the United States. The measures will allow millions of Mexican nations in this country to live with greater certainty as they continue their tireless work to generate prosperity for their families and both our countries.
Another part of ensuring our citizens can live with certainty and dignity means guaranteeing the safety of their communities, and in recent years, security cooperation between the United States and Mexico has increased significantly. That cooperation is largely based on a simple idea—our two countries face shared security challenges for which we bear shared responsibility, and those issues require shared solutions.
That acknowledgment is at the heart of the framework for security cooperation between our two countries—the Merida Initiative—through which the United States and Mexico have endeavored to bolster our joint efforts to tackle transnational organized crime. One of the primary strategies of the Merida Initiative is to strengthen and modernize justice institutions in Mexico. Accordingly, a large portion of the assistance Mexico receives through the Merida Initiative comes in the form of training programs for police, prosecutors, judges, criminal investigators, and other members of the criminal justice system. We still have a long way to go, but we now have an effective framework to meet the challenges we face, and ultimately guarantee the rule of law and peace for our communities.
Finally, let me mention some of the progress that has been taking place in Mexico in recent years. As part of a broad agreement between the three main political parties called the Pacto Por México, President Peña Nieto and the Mexican Congress were able to pass unprecedented legislation that included reforms to energy, education, telecoms, transparency, finance and fiscal policy, as well as political and electoral reform. Taken as a whole, those reforms have laid the groundwork for a fundamental transformation in Mexico that will unlock the true potential of the country as an emerging economic power with a deep commitment to democracy and international responsibility. We are preparing ourselves to take advantage of the opportunities before us in this century, and we are committed to achieving big things together with our partners in the United States.
As our two countries move forward together in this century, it is my sincere hope and conviction that Mexico can gradually cease to be Terra Incognita for America and Americans, and become its closest friend and partner.
Thank you very much.