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CEOs, ambassadors discuss business goals for U.S. and Mexico

WASHINGTON — The time has come for an “elevated discussion” on the future of business relations between the United States and Mexico, including improvements to the border, according to a panel of business leaders and ambassadors from both countries.

The roundtable discussion Monday at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce followed a meeting of the U.S-Mexico CEO Dialogue initiative, which began last May when presidents of the two countries called for a “high-level economic dialogue” on ways to take the nations’ relationship to a new level.

Before any decisions were made, however, the two governments turned to the private sector for input.

After meeting first in Mexico in December and again in Washington on Monday, the business executives have found areas of focus and “thought processes” for moving forward, said John Rice, vice chairman of General Electric, who has been part of the discussions. Those ideas will be presented to members of the two governments for feedback.

“I think we’ve assembled a group of people who really want to do this to make a difference,” Rice said. “To take what is a great relationship and take it to the next level.”

Mexican Ambassador Eduardo Medina Mora said the discussions will create a new perspective on the competitiveness within North America.

“I think that, for the first time, we have a roadmap looking forward, in very specific, concrete things that are meaningful and might make a real difference” for the two countries, Mora said.

E. Anthony Wayne, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said there was no question that the private sector would have to be involved after President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto called for the dialogue.

“Government officials understand some things, but we don’t understand how to make business,” Wayne said. “How to make, how to innovate, how to create things, how to make new partnerships, how to make the border run even better from the perspective of its users.”

Arizona’s trade with Mexico has grown steadily, with Mexico being the top destination for the state’s exports over the last four years. The state did about $7 billion in business with the country in 2013, accounting for about 37 percent of all Arizona exports, according to Census Bureau data.

Among improvements called for by the executives were improvements to the U.S.-Mexico border. That could shorten wait times and increase transparency, said Armando Garza, chairman of Mexican business conglomerate Alfa.

Rice also pointed to the border as a target for improvement.

“I see a lot of other countries in the world, and I can’t come up with a reason why this border shouldn’t be the most efficient and most effective,” Rice said.

All the participants agreed that both countries would benefit from the discussions. Rice said that while companies have fostered relationships with other countries, they have waited too long to do the same with Mexico.

Mexican executives said some companies are learning about improving their practices as a result of the dialogue. Garza said the initiative should give Mexican businesses better ideas of how they can grow, such as through improving infrastructure and software.

“We also have long-term views as to what we should do in energy, for example,” Garza said, “which is a major new effort in Mexico and one that has been developed in the U.S.”

Claudio Gonzalez, president of the Mexican Council of Businessmen, said North America has tremendous potential for competition because of its resources and physical isolation from Asia and Europe.

“But we have to land this potential,” Gonzalez said. “We have to make it a reality, and we have to make it a reality with benefits for everyone involved in North America.”