A Conversation With Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan on The Importance of The 21st Century Border

NDN and NPI was proud to host the Ambassador of Mexico Arturo Sarukhan for a key note speech at our Forward Together/Avanzando Juntos/Avançando Juntos – A Conference Looking at the Changing Politics of the Americas event.

The Ambassador did an excellent job of explaining why the 21st Century Border Initiative is such a key part of the United States and Mexico's intermestic relationship.  Ambassador Sarukhan did this by first contextualizing the current relationship between the United States and Mexico in a historical way, then he highlighted the positive economic ties between the our two countries, finally concluding with the improvements in security along the border.

Ambassador Sarukhan started his speech by putting the current U.S. - Mexico relationship in a historical context:

Let me start with why the relationship is strategic and how the 21st century  border vision fits into this strategic concept.  Let me start by reminding some of you who follow US-Mexico issues or Mexican foreign policy curtly, that many, many years ago—decades ago—I’ll name the sin but not the sinner, a then-sitting Mexican president went to Singapore to meet Premier Lee Kuan Yew, on what was the first trip a Mexican president had ever made to Singapore. 

They sit down, and in the usual chit chat that accompanies formal diplomatic meetings, Premier Lee Kuan Yew asks this Mexican president—“Mr. President, remind me how many kilometers of a border does Mexico share with the United States?”  And this Mexican president responded—“Unfortunately, 3,000 kilometers.”  Lee Quan Yew kind of stayed silent for about ten seconds, scratched his head, and looked at this Mexican president and said—“Mr. President, what would Singapore give for one kilometer of a border with the United States.”

What this Mexican president said 25 plus years ago, A) would never be said by any serious, responsible Mexican public official or president or politician today (and that’s a sign of how much the relationship has changed) and B) did not take into account what precisely the 21st century border vision is trying to do, which is to understand the huge synergies that exist because of this 3,000 kilometer border that both countries share.  And if you look at how the border has played a role in the creation of this strategic relationship, you just have to look at trade and the role that trade has played in changing the face and the nature of this bilateral relationship. 

He then highlighted the mutual benefit of the North American Free Trade Agreement which not only economically benefitted both countries but strengthened ties between the United States and Mexico while also not shedding jobs in America:

Now this is too sophisticated of a crowd for me to come in and say that every single one of those 40 million jobs was the direct result of NAFTA.  But what I think we can fairly say is that the Ross Perot sucking sound of jobs never materialized because of NAFTA—40 million new, additional jobs. 

Annual trade among NAFTA partners now total $946 billion, more than triple what it was in 1993.  US exports to Mexico have risen 221.2%.  Mexican exports to the US have grown 364% and Mexican exports to Canada have grown 641.1%. 

And actually, Simon, it’s slightly different and depends on where your orientation and focus is.  If your focus is on additional trans-Atlantic ties with Western Europe, Mexico buys more US goods than the combined purchases of Germany, France, Great Britain and Italy.  If your focus is on the South, Mexico buys more goods than all of the rest of South America put together.  And if you’re focused east towards the Pacific, Mexico buys more than what Japan and China together buy from the United States.   Regardless of over all the ballyhoo over China these days, for every dollar that China is buying from the United States, Mexico and Canada together are buying nine dollars of American exports. 

We are your second largest buyer of exports on the face of the earth.  And we have become the second largest trading partner of the United States these last three trimesters because of the surge that we have seen in Mexico’s economy coming off the effects of the 2009 recession.  If you look at some of these trade numbers, there’s an impressive story to be told as to how NAFTA changed the dynamics of our bilateral relationship and why we are doing what we’re doing, which I’ll explain in a few minutes regarding the 21st century declaration and vision.

He finished by discussing the postive security gains made along the border and how the United States and Mexico must now work together to create more infrastructure to continue harnessing the positive economic benefits from our two countries:

for the first time in the history of the relationship with the United States, we have one holistic vision for border management. 

We have eliminated the old stuffed pipe system in which each one of these issues was dealt with in a separate bin, and there was connection or connectivity of the different issues that were critical to understanding the border and the dynamics on the border.  This concept and this vision and the articulation of these policies is doing, it is ensuring as we move forward on security, we’re also moving forward on trade facilitation, as we move forward on how to trigger economic growth and wellbeing on the border. 

We’re also tackling environmental degradation on the border.  How do we deal with critical issues like water?  How do we deal with migratory species going back and forth across our common border?  This is the first time in our bilateral relationship that we have a common, articulated, unified vision of dealing with challenges on the border.

Click here for the full transcript.