Obama’s Mexico Trip: Putting Trade and Investment at the Top of the Agenda

President Obama recognizes that security is a pervasive problem in the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. But in his April 30 press conference prior to setting out for Mexico, Obama highlighted the U.S.-Mexico trade relationship:

“A lot of the focus is going to be on economics. We’ve spent so much time on security issues between the United States and Mexico that sometimes I think we forget this is a massive trading partner responsible for huge amounts of commerce and huge numbers of jobs on both sides of the border. We want to see how we can deepen that, how we can improve that and maintain that economic dialogue over a long period of time.”

Beyond the statistics of expanding trade, what more should the presidents discuss?

Total two-way trade reached $494 billion in 2012, which according to Mexican Ambassador Medina-Mora means more than $1.3 billion per day; almost $1 million dollars per minute. In absolute terms, Mexico is America’s third largest trading partner, and in 2012 U.S. exports to Mexico were $216.3 billion. According to Medina-Mora this is more than the combination of U.S. exports to all the countries with which the United States has a trade agreement in place – except for Canada. Surprisingly, it is more than U.S. exports to Japan and China combined, that is $180.6 billion.

We agree that exports to Mexico both maintain and create jobs in the United States. The U.S. government estimates that each additional billion dollars in new exports supports more than 6,000 new jobs. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, almost 6 million U.S. jobs rely on trade with Mexico, the consequence of which is the potential creation of 107,000 new U.S. jobs.

Furthermore, individual states benefit from exports to Mexico such as Arizona, California and Texas which hold Mexico as their main export destination. Mexico is also the second destination for exports from 20 other states and is ranked among the top five export destinations for 34 states.

Investment flows are also mutually beneficial. According to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, sales of services in Mexico by majority U.S. owned affiliates were $34.4 billion in 2010. Sales of services in the United States by majority Mexico-owned firms were $4.8 billion. According to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, the United States currently provides 41 percent of all foreign direct investment in Mexico, benefiting more than 21,139 companies.

Beyond the numbers, the reality of trade and investment is that the United States and Mexico compete together in the global economy. Production and supply chains in North America are deeply integrated with the U.S. content of Mexico exports to the United States estimated at 40 cents on the dollar. This compares to 25 cents for Canadian exports to the United States and 4 cents for China and 2 cents for the European Union, according to a Wilson Center report. In short, there exists a growing integrated manufacturing platform that takes advantage of geography, time zones and cultural affinity.

The challenge ahead is how to build on that integration for the forthcoming Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment talks with the European Union. The development of common standards and regulations will impact both Mexican and Canadian industry. Therefore, they need to be either at the table, or close to the negotiations. How close will the consultations with the Mexican trade delegation be? Ideally, the Mexicans would like to be at the negotiating table, but that is improbable. More likely is a commitment from President Obama to consult closely with the Mexican delegation. This could include both pre-talks and post-talk briefings, reinforcing Obama’s call “to maintain the economic dialogue over a long period of time.” On the European side, Turkey wishes to have a close consultative arrangement with the EU negotiators. This creates a balanced need for consultations with immediate trading partners.

Related to the growth in two-way trade is the need to facilitate movement of trucks across the U.S.-Mexico border. Despite an increased use of pre-clearance procedures, Mexican trucks must line up several kilometers from the border while they wait their turn to reach the fast lane that leads up to and through the U.S. border. Public-private partnerships are needed to construct the access roads some 10 kilometers from the border so that pre-cleared vehicles can move rapidly through the border zone. Currently, GPS vehicle trackers are used to link the sending and receiving manufacturers with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). Before the truck even reaches the border post, CBP will know the content and value of the merchandise, as well as specifications on the cab and its driver. Only if tampering is detected will CBP stop the truck for secondary inspection, otherwise the truck sails through the border and onto its final destination. The Mexican private sector has demonstrated interest in constructing those access roads, but it needs presidential mandates from both governments to support the projects, as well as Mexican government purchase of necessary land.

Increasingly, the economies of both the U.S. and Mexico depend upon each other. There is much for the presidents to discuss and many challenges lie ahead, including productivity and education in both our countries. As President Obama begins his second term, it is constructive for him to put energy and political will into deepening that economic relationship.