The state of the world today is increasingly dangerous and challenging.
When we look at the economic and political troubles in Europe, the rise of nationalistic overtones, the lack of respect for international rules and institutions, failing states in the Middle East, aggressive trading practices in the Far East, or unprecedented terrorist activities in the Western Hemisphere, and we compare all these features with the nature and outlook of U.S.-Mexico relations, it is easy to conclude that we have plenty to cherish.
We in North America ought to strive for closer cooperation, a common view towards the future, and efforts to ensure our region remains the most prosperous and dynamic in the world. It’s time for both U.S. candidates to show restraint, respect, and true statesmanship.
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, the one country that has been mentioned the most, after the U.S. itself, is Mexico. It is quite natural, since Mexico is a unique nation to the U.S. – a neighbor, a major trading partner, security ally, and friend. We both influence one another in a myriad of ways, from culture to investment, to fighting illegal drugs, and promoting environmental protection.
Over the years, our interests, concerns, core values, and aspirations have grown in sync. Our two countries share intelligence and take aim against potential terrorist threats in our region. Our diplomats all over the world share information about suspicious activities that might harm us.
Cooperation spans the fields of money laundering, property rights, curbing human trafficking, joint efforts against the spread of infectious diseases, sharing water at the border, and customs regulations, among many others.
Mexico is the U.S.’s third-largest trading partner. More than six million U.S. jobs are directly linked to trading with its neighbor to the south. Mexico purchases more U.S. goods than the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany combined.
Together with our Canadian friends, the three North American economies increasingly look like a regional supply chain. We jointly produce our manufacturing goods, feed ourselves, and, in a very short time, will be able to enjoy energy independence. Indeed, our untapped energy wealth will create a region that no longer needs supplies from the Middle East or elsewhere. A joint North American energy strategy could ensure an unprecedented period of prosperity for all three nations.
One salient feature of our links is immigration. In this, the tide is turning: over the last five years, more Mexicans have headed back to their hometowns than gone to the U.S. This opens the door to rethink the role of our labor markets and how to improve our regional competitiveness. Ironically, if a wall were built along the border, as Donald Trump has called for, it might impede more Mexicans from crossing back to Mexico – hardly his intention.
Notwithstanding the scope and sheer importance of U.S.-Mexico cooperation, the Republican candidate has presented Mexico as a movie villain. On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump has not found a kind word for Mexico or the Mexican people. His views are disturbing, misguided, and could well backfire.
When he depicts us Mexicans as rapists and criminals, when he asks for building a beautiful wall – that we have to pay for – or calls for eliminating NAFTA, our natural reaction is one of dismay and uncertainty. Is he trying to prompt an anti-American reaction in Mexico? Is he really saying that Mexico is an enemy of the U.S.? Is he trying to dismantle our bilateral agreements? Or is he only using Mexico as a political scapegoat that garners him more votes from people who don’t realize the importance of our linkages?
Whether he becomes the next president or not, Mr. Trump’s assertions have already inflicted great damage to the way we ought to conduct our dealings. By antagonizing Mexico, Mr. Trump is working against the most vital national interests of the U.S. Whether in the realm of regional security, job creation, financial prowess, or political stability, Mexico is and will continue to be a top priority for the U.S.
If Mexico really were as lousy a country as Mr. Trump has depicted us, the U.S. would be in very serious trouble indeed. If Mexico were, as unfortunately many countries are, in the midst of a civil war, harboring terrorists, financially broke, or espousing an ideology of hatred or religious extremism, Mr. Trump would be right to ring the alarm bell. However, none of the above is true, thankfully.
Let’s take a look from the other side. When seen from south of the border, Hillary Clinton’s remarks about Mexico have been surprising and rather disappointing. She has called for a review of NAFTA, one of her husband’s main achievements, but has not elaborated what is to be reviewed or how to go about it.
However, what comes as an even bigger surprise is that she has not significantly challenged her opponent’s views and policies toward Mexico, by spelling out the damage such a misguided approach could inflict upon the U.S., particularly in key states like Texas, Illinois, or California or on sensitive areas such as security, investment, or regional stability.
As former Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton must surely be fully aware of the risks involved in alienating and being hostile to Mexico. Her silence on these matters is in itself a bad signal for our future cooperation.
Both candidates know by now that campaigning is hard to do. Gaining votes and souls is a democratic must. However, this shouldn’t be done at the expense of vital national interests or jeopardizing a key linkage as the one between the U.S. and Mexico.
Top image: A single day in bilateral U.S.-Mexico trade fuels both economies. Graphic courtesy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.