WASHINGTON, D.C. – A former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico is recommending the creation of an annual North America Border Management Summit.

Earl Anthony Wayne believes such a forum would allow border stakeholders from the U.S., Mexico and Canada to “take lessons from the best practices on both sides of the border.”

Wayne made the proposal in his closing remarks at the 7th Annual Building a Competitive U.S.-Mexico Border virtual conference, hosted last week by the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute. 

Wayne is a public policy fellow at the Mexico Institute. The virtual conference was sponsored by the Border Trade Alliance.

“Shouldn’t we get together every six months or so on both borders and get representatives from across the border to talk and then, maybe, once a year have a North America Border Management Summit where we can take lessons from the best practices on both sides of the border?” Wayne asked.

“It seems to me we have to invest. This is so important economically for all three countries and if we can get a process going where people become familiar with each other, where they become more comfortable, maybe we can make some real progress.”

Wayne said good ideas have been emanating from stakeholders along both the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders over the past decade. However, he said “everybody was shocked” by the coronavirus pandemic and they “went back into a cocoon mode because they were just trying to survive.”

Wayne said: “On each border we have seen moments in the past where there has been very good dialogue, certainly along the U.S.-Mexico border there have been certain sectors where you have had that right combination of people, where there have been good discussions in those sectors and ideas have come forward. It is just time to put it all together.”

The 7th Annual Building a Competitive U.S.-Mexico Border virtual conference was very timely, the former ambassador said. 

“There were a number of excellent observations and ideas shared but the work agenda is right there in front of us now. And so I’m very happy for the fact that the Mexico Institute called this together with its partners. And I think there is a lot of good that we can do, really in the immediate, right now, in helping to shape what the U.S. and Mexican governments are going to do.”

Wayne said if all the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada border states and provinces were placed in one country it would have the third largest economy in world. “And, yet, there is a real challenge to coordinating across these long borders. Different communities have shared interests but it is hard to get together across the length of either border to coordinate,” Wayne said. He argued that this leads to “a weakness for each of the border communities in pursuing their interests in a coordinated way.”

Specifically for the U.S-Mexico border, there already exists a 21st Century border working group, Wayne said. 

“The idea was to, in fact, make the border as modern as it should be to handle 21st Century traffic and it did start doing things but again a lot of that got bogged down and then during the pandemic, of course, there was really just not much of anything done in that area because people were dealing with the immediate emergencies.”

Nonetheless, opportunities still exist, Wayne argued. He said that on September 9 a “brand new high-level economic dialogue” will take place between the United States and Mexico. 

“This existed during the Obama administration, the Obama and Peña Nieto administrations, and what it did was devise a really interesting set of important economic agenda items that needed to be addressed between the two countries, the United States and Mexico,” Wayne explained.

He said these important economic agenda items were not really covered by the North American Free Trade Agreement and are not adequately covered by its successor, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. He said these items could be covered at the high-level economic dialogue meeting.

“The USMCA does a lot of good stuff but it doesn’t deal with border infrastructure, for example. It doesn’t modernize the technology on processing across the border. It doesn’t do transportation planning for all the roads that lead to and from the border in each country and make sure they make sense, and people are talking to each other.”

Wayne said there are many things that can be done at this high-level economic dialogue event “that can be of great benefit for the border.” He urged private sector representatives attending the virtual conference to play their part.

“To all of you private sector representatives here, I would say get your act together and get your ideas in to both governments right now. You’ve got a month until they are going to meet. Actually, you have less than a month because they are going to meet on the 9th,” Wayne said.

“So I would get your ideas in, as my Mom would say, lickety split, meaning, rapidly, to both governments because they are working on this and say what you would like to see them do.”

Wayne said he agreed with suggestions made by others during the virtual conference that there “needs to be a set of forums that have the private sector, have the local communities, have the states involved as well as the federal governments.”

But, he acknowledged, it is complex.

“It is hard to get those local dialogues and then the mid-level dialogues and the federal governments all working in sync and working well. But, you have got to try and do that. There is no way out of that if you want to address these problems,” Wayne said.

“It has to be that you have these different levels of government and the private sector involved at each level of conversation or it is not going to be informed by reality. I mean, the reality is what happens on the ground and that is a combination of the officials working right there, at the border and the private sector on both sides of the border trying to make this happen.”

The challenge over the next several weeks, Wayne said, is to get key messages sent to both Mexico City and Washington.

“You need a process. And you need regional sectoral dialogues that are very efficient, that involve both economic officials and the DHS and SAT and other officials that were manning the border, and the private sector and then that has to feed into a broader dialogue that is going to inform the policy structures that are going to emerge and the policy agenda that should come out of this high-level economic dialogue.”

Editor’s Note: Click here to watch all of the two-day 7th Annual Building a Competitive U.S.-Mexico Border virtual conference.

Editor’s Note: The above news story is the third in a three-part series on the 7th Annual Building a Competitive U.S.-Mexico Border virtual conference. Click here to read Part One and here to read and listen to Part Two.

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