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It’s time for Arizona to get in the game with Mexico

What do we want
from Mexico?

As the Gang of
Eight pushes forward
on immigration reform,
the prospect of
real change gives us
the opportunity as Arizonans
and Americans
to ask, What do we
want from our relationship
with Mexico?

The first question to ask is, What IS our
current relationship with Mexico? It is definitely NOT a security-based relationship.

True, the Mérida Initiative — a binational
U.S.-Mexico security program — is worth
about $1.9 billion dollars over several years
and our border security complex costs us
several billion dollars annually. Yet these
figures pale in comparison with the U.S.-Mexico commercial relationship, now at
over a half trillion dollars per year. Mexico
is the U.S.’ No. 2 export market, our No. 2
tourism market and the third-largest foreign
petroleum supplier. Mexico is Arizona’s
largest trading partner, by a significant
amount. In this era of globalization, money
really talks, and the reality is that our bilateral
commercial “conversation” makes the
talk about Mexico’s security situation and
our own worries over border security look
small in comparison.

Arizona needs more personal relationships
with Mexico

In international relations, as in football,
it’s a bad strategy to have your “defense”
on the fi eld for most or all of the game.
Over the past several years, we’ve been
playing defense at the border just as
Mexico’s economy expanded tremendously
beginning in 2010. Even our trade discussions
in the state focus largely on what
is happening just here in Arizona. As important
as border infrastructure is, in reality
the U.S.-Mexico border is the very last
place where you want to start dealing with
complex issues such as immigration, trade
and security.

Business in a global context is still driven
by personal interactions. This means that
you can’t accomplish all that you need to
accomplish from our air-conditioned offi ces
in Phoenix, Tucson or even Nogales. Business
in Mexico is particularly notable for
being based on face-to-face relationships
between family-owned fi rms, often over
very long and delicious meals in Mexico
City. Tough work, but someone has to do it!

A Casa Arizona in Mexico City

Arizonans have the Arizona-Mexico Commission
as a solid mechanism for working
with the state of Sonora, but Sonora is
just one state in Mexico and not the most
dynamic from an economic standpoint.
The real economic potential is where the
large population centers are: Mexico City,
Monterrey and Guadalajara. We desperately
need a permanent, well-staffed Casa
Arizona located in Mexico City that can be
utilized by the state of Arizona, city leaders,
chambers of commerce, universities and
other key stakeholders. The basic methodology
for these types of trade development
offi ces is now well-developed by other
states, most notably Texas. Arizonans need
to be there in large numbers and full-time
in order to get in the game and make
something happen for the state. Immigration
reform gives us the “bandwidth” to
focus on creating the truly strategic relationships
and fl ows of trade and tourism
that we very much need to help develop a
sustainable economy.

Erik Lee is Associate Director at the North
American Center for Transborder Studies at
Arizona State University.