Mexico, an increasingly important neighbor, is creative. Can we appreciate fully? Will we reciprocate their good intentions and innovations?
New North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) talks begin in late August. Will Trump’s threats against Mexico prevail? Will he impose new tariffs? Will Mexico respond in kind, engendering a new trade war, hurting you and other consumers?
There is good news and bad news. Amid the non-business-like instability of the Trump administration, a few cooler heads emerge. One is Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross. Though another billionaire and graduate of Wall Street, Ross—for the meantime—seems to be playing nice with the Mexicans.
Mexico, also, is being diplomatic, through their Secretary of Commerce, Ildefonso Guajardo.
Neither are bellicose. Both believe (in terms President Trump might understand) in: Trade? Good; Trade Wars? Bad; Adding Punishing Tariffs? Bad. Earth to Trump: “No possible good is achieved by alienating Mexico” (Bloomberg View, 6 June 2017).
Yes, Mexico received more benefits from NAFTA than did the U.S. But “the Mexican trade deficit with the U.S. is a red-herring” (Irina Ivanova, MoneyWatch, 27 January 2017). Admittedly, global trade is complex (“who knew”?) But Mexico, as the U.S.’s third major trading partner, supplies us many things we want and need: automobiles, auto parts, appliances, machinery, oil, and agricultural products (browse your local HEB or other food market).
Need we mention cultural contributions and the sweat and work of thousands of needed workers, legal and undocumented? Well, yes, we need to mention those most welcome additions to our society. Try (as the film of a few years ago suggested) “A Day without Mexicans.” We would not like it nor survive it. If or when the Mexican trade deficit is reduced, deficits with other countries will rise, so be careful what you wish for. Or ‘what goes around, comes around.”
So, at least in a few circles, facts do matter. Is NAFTA, as Trump has alleged, a “one-sided deal?” Not so, says Jeffry Bartash (Market Watch, 27 January 2017). As Mexico’s economy improves, fewer immigrants head toward the U.S. Both countries gain, in various ways. Too bad (and maybe, now, irrelevant) was President Trump’s disrespectful conversation with President Enrique Peña Nieto (who kept his cool). Too bad, his threat of a “steep tax on Mexican imports.”
Set aside the blustering. The facts show us other, positive news. Texas, to cite one example, has benefited enormously from trade with Mexico. Trade, since NAFTA inception in 1994, rose from $68 Billion to $235 Billion by 2016. The U.S. as a whole, indeed, the whole world, has benefited for years (centuries) from Mexico’s innovations. You need not go back to the Mayas (who invented the zero, for use in mathematics and architecture). You might want to but need not include tequila, chicle (chewing gum) or guacamole either. (And, no, as I had to tell a Winter Visitor to South Texas, I cannot show you a “Guacamole Tree”.)
But consider just a few examples from Omar Ortúzar’s list of “Mexican Creativity”: color television (1940, Guillermo González Carmona); antidote for scorpion bites (1994, Mexican scientist Alejandro Alagón); indelible ink to help prevent voter fraud (1994, Filiberto Vásquez Davila, Mexican bio-chemical engineer); translucent concrete (2005, Joel Sosa); discovery of Ozone depletion (2012, Mario Molina, sharing the Nobel Prize in Chemistry).
Impressive, yes. But, if not enough, add innovations in agriculture touted by Bill Gates and Carlos Slim Helú, two of the world’s richest men and active philanthropists (February 2013). Specifically, those contributions include new varieties of wheat and corn that saved a billion people from starvation; inventions and methods helping poor countries become food sufficient. All this from Mexican scientists, researching together in coordination with Mexican government, Mexican universities, Mexican private NGOs and international organizations.
The ideas are there. The ganas or will power is there. Mexico’s main problem is still its inequality of wealth. Yet it perseveres, all too often without U.S. appreciation of its contributions sufficiently valued. The U.S.’s main problem? We have the resources, the scientists, the science. But we (unfortunately, right now) have not the national government or national officials in power who believe in those capable scientists, those social and business leaders, nor in those indisputable scientific and economic facts. “Allí esta el detalle;” therein lies the detail.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this guest column shows Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, Mexico’s secretary of commerce.