By Karl Reiner
With the possible exception of many of those in Arizona, U.S. political leaders tend to agree that it is in the national interest to have a prosperous and democratic Mexico on the other side of the southern border. Although Mexico’s development issues have been a low foreign policy priority, the relationship between the countries works well in some areas. Unfortunately, there are also a host of problems and little agreement as to what to do about them.
Mexico is the second-largest market for U.S. exports after Canada. In 2011, our exports to Mexico were valued at $198.3 billion, up substantially as the Mexican economy recovers from recession. The upward trend continued in the first half of 2012 with exports running over $10 billion ahead of the previous year’s first half level. In 2011, Texas led the states in exports to Mexico with $87.3 billion. It was followed by California and Michigan. Arizona was 4th at $5.9 billion.
Although the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) brought benefits to Mexico, they were not equally distributed across the country. Perhaps too much was expected of it by Mexican officials. NAFTA was not by itself going to solve the nation’s poverty and employment problems. Without improvement in many other areas, Mexico’s economy could not expand as rapidly as the country’s economic optimists expected.
Mexico is the second most-populated country in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico’s stodgy economy was hit hard by Chinese competition and the U.S. recession. As it recovers, Mexico could use some assistance in improving its standards in the areas of intellectual property, transparency, labor and environment. It has to prepare its labor force to compete in a global economy. Mexico has to find ways to achieve a more equal distribution of income and generate employment.
Mexico’s population of 101 million is a little less than a third the size of the U.S. population. Its growing GDP of $1.1 trillion now equates to about 7% of the U.S. GDP of $15 trillion. This means that Mexico’s per capita GDP of $17,064 is 64% lower than the U.S. per capita GDP of $47,190. The large differences in the economies, along with Mexico’s high poverty rate are the main factors behind the prickly illegal immigration issue.
Nogales, Arizona is major U.S. inland port of entry, ranking 5th in the nation. It handles more than half of the fresh fruits and vegetables entering the United States. On the Mexican side of the border, the Kino Border Initiative (a charitable organization) deals with the human aspect of border problems. It operates an assistance program for those recently deported from the United States.
The Kino staff and volunteers have set up a shelter for deported women and children. They operate a first aid station. Kino’s largest undertaking is a center that provides basic humanitarian assistance to deportees. The center provides two meals a day, distributes clothes and personal care items. It also refers people to Mexican government services.
During the March-May 2012 period, the center aided over 2,800 deportees. Of that number, 2,623 were Mexican nationals. Of the 227 identified as hailing from Central America, 170 came from Honduras. The Mexican deportees originated in many of Mexico’s states. The largest contingents, however, came from the poorer areas. Chiapas was claimed as place of residence by 315. Oaxaca was the starting point for 241 and 173 came from Veracruz.
In the large and lucrative American marketplace, American consumers spend an estimated $65 billion per year on illegal drug products. The drug consumption in the U.S. has created havoc in Mexico. Approximately 50,000 people have been killed in the ongoing drug wars as the cartels fight each other and government forces. The objective of the warring cartels is controlling access to the U.S. As the drugs move into the U.S., a flow of money and weapons slides back into Mexico.
Given the complex nature of the border issues, it would behoove Arizona’s leaders to move beyond stoking peoples’ fears and offering simplistic solutions. Resolving the problems with Mexico is an arduous task and a federal responsibility. Arizona’s leaders often say they support growth in the business sector. They could learn a thing or two from Texas where it is known that trade with Mexico supports jobs. And they are smart enough not to gum up the works with discordant state legislation.