Mexico is of enormous importance to the United States. We have strong strategic interests in a relationship of respect and collaboration with Mexico while we work through differences on trade, security, and migration.
U.S.-Mexico relations touch the daily lives of more Americans than ties with any other country, whether through culture, commerce or travel. U.S. prosperity and the security of our homeland are deeply affected by the type of relationship we have with our southern neighbor.
Much can be improved between Mexico and the U.S. for the good of both countries, but tackling these challenges need not be a win-lose proposition. Both countries can gain security and prosperity. Reviving the animosity and “distance” that characterized our relationship in the seventies or eighties is dangerous and runs counter to our interests.
The six of us have served as U.S. Ambassadors to Mexico, managing the ever-improving relationship across Democratic and Republican administrations since the late eighties. We have seen firsthand the strategic value of working cooperatively with Mexico to tackle common problems, including crime, terrorism and global economic competition. Along the way, Mexico has become a more democratic and prosperous country, making it a better and more reliable partner.
We are now deeply concerned to see this foundation shaken. Public attitudes in both countries are being soured by exaggerated public accusations. Mexicans believe that their national “dignity” has been insulted. Champions of closer cooperation with the U.S. are on the defensive. Nationalist voices are gaining traction. This is not in America’s long-term interest.
The United States and Mexico started our modern journey to closer partnership with the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement. Collectively, the six of us have worked through every stage of NAFTA. This is not a perfect agreement, but neither is it the job killer some have construed. Since NAFTA was signed in 1993, U.S. jobs linked to trade with Mexico grew from 700,000 to 4.9 million. The value of our two-way trade has grown six-fold, reaching $584 billion in 2015. Mexico is now the second largest market for U.S. exports, larger than our exports to China, Japan, and Germany combined. Mexico is the third largest buyer of U.S. agricultural products. We build many things together, with parts crossing borders in both directions – so much so that finished Mexican manufactured exports were found to have 40 percent U.S. content.
U.S. jobs moved to Mexico, but others were created by NAFTA. A 2013 study estimated that the US is $127 billion richer each year because of extra NAFTA trade. New studies have made clear that the big causes of US manufacturing job losses are automation and trade with China, not NAFTA. NAFTA can be improved to help boost the U.S. economy in such areas as “rule of origin,” services, e-commerce, border inefficiencies, and labor standards. Those are the issues that should be negotiated based on facts to strengthen a long-term relationship that makes both countries more competitive.
Energy deserves special mention. Under NAFTA, Mexico’s nationalized energy sector was still off limits to U.S. companies. In 2013, Mexico opened investment and trade in oil, natural gas, electricity, renewables, and refined fuels to US and other companies. Today, the U.S. exports more natural gas and gasoline to Mexico than to any country. In December, major US companies won licenses to develop Mexico’s oil reserves, while others are partners in new pipelines. These openings make North America more energy secure.
The U.S. deficit with Mexico gets more public attention than it deserves. Mexico represents 8 percent of our deficit. Our deficits with China, the EU and Japan are larger. The deficit with Mexico declined by over 40 percent between 2010 and 2015, even as our trade grew 35 percent.
A sharp point of contention has been over the border wall and migration. The great irony is that today there are 1.1 million fewer undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. than in 2007. Apprehensions of Mexicans at the border have reached the lowest levels of this century. Mexico has joined us to manage the surge in migrants from Central America, deporting over 165,000 from its southern border in 2015, more than the United States did. Publicly demanding that Mexico pay for a wall that Mexicans don’t think is needed has fueled anti-American nationalism. That limits the capacity of Mexico’s government to work with us to find solutions.
Common borders also made Mexico and the United States partners in national security. Ever since 9/11, Mexico and the US have worked closely to stop potential terrorists from entering the U.S. We also work to improve the fight against illicit trafficking. The trafficking of heroin and other drugs into the U.S. and the smuggling of weapons and drug profits into Mexico fuel violence, corruption, and deaths in both countries. Still, during the years of our collective service, law enforcement officials have built trust, competency and legal channels to act against criminal networks. That cooperation needs to be strengthened, not undermined.
Together, the authors have witnessed profound and positive changes in the U.S.-Mexico relationship over the last quarter century. We urge that the U.S. engage in serious, fact-based negotiations over differences on trade and other issues.
Intimidating or denigrating remarks make it harder to reach outcomes that support American economic and security interests and fuel anti-Americanism in Mexico. Workers, companies, and communities of both countries will prosper with a long- term strategic partnership between the US and Mexico. Let’s keep building it.
John D. Negroponte, US ambassador to Mexico 1989-1993
James R. Jones, US Ambassador to Mexico 1993-1997
Jeffrey Davidow, US Ambassador to Mexico 1998-2002
Antonio Garza, US Ambassador to Mexico 2002-2009
Carlos Pascual, US Ambassador to Mexico 2009-2011
Earl Anthony Wayne, US Ambassador to Mexico 2011-2015
Editor’s Note: An abbreviated version of this op-ed appeared in The Washington Post. Click here to read it.