For U.S. And Mexico, North American Summit Presents Opportunity

On the eve of President Obama's visit to Mexico, Robert Siegel speaks with Arturo Sarukhan, former Mexican ambassador to the United States. They discuss the security situation in Mexico, the prospects for immigration reform and the trade agreements shared by the two countries.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Arturos Sarukhan is a former Mexican ambassador to the United States. He's no stranger to North American Three Amigo summits, having helped prepare for a few of them himself. Welcome to the program.

ARTURO SARUKHAN: Thank you. It's a great pleasure.

SIEGEL: And Ambassador Sarukhan, we've just been hearing about Mexico combating drug cartel violence in Michoacan state. There's some real U.S. concerns about the drug cartels and violence closer to the U.S. border. Mexico has scaled back U.S. security assistance. Is that something you that President Obama will likely raise with his Mexican counterpart?

SARUKHAN: Well, given that this is a strictly bilateral issue, it will probably be discussed on the sideline of the summit, per se. This is an issue which, I think, most of your listeners will understand cannot be solved overnight. It's going to take commitment on both the Mexican government and the U.S. government. This is one issue in the bilateral relationship, like most of the bilateral relationships, in fact, where you need two to tango.

SIEGEL: Big issue that most Americans think of when we hear about talks with Mexico is immigration. What would Mexico like to see the U.S. do in terms of immigration?

SARUKHAN: Well, look. I think that if you speak to most Mexicans they understand the competitiveness of North America will only be enhanced if a capital abundant country, the U.S., living next to a labor-abundant country, Mexico, can bring these two issues together, create synergies and enhance the competitiveness of North America on the global arena.

Labor mobility is not just a euphemism for immigration reform, but immigration reform does play a very important role in this piece. So having the U.S. move forward on two key components, what do you do with 11 million people living in the shadows from all over the world...

SIEGEL: The undocumented (unintelligible)

SARUKHAN: The undocumented who are already here, but then the other piece, which is how do you provide for a legal safe way for willing employees to hire willing employees, and this is where labor mobility and a potential temporary worker program play a very important role.

SIEGEL: But Ambassador Sarukhan, you work in Washington. You're a distinguished fellow at the Brookings Institution here in Washington D.C. so you know what's going on.

SARUKHAN: Of course.

SIEGEL: Do you see any prospect for those issues to be resolved by President Obama over the next two years?

SARUKHAN: Look, I think we have the foundations of a potential deal, but I think, obviously, the political window of opportunity with midterms in this country has certainly pushed that back and we're waiting to see if it'll open or close.

SIEGEL: On trade, there's much talk of updating or improving NAFTA, which is now 20 years old. What's an example of deepening trade relations, more in the spirit of the Transpacific Partnership, the TPP, than the 20-year-old NAFTA. What would Mexico want to see?

SARUKHAN: Well, I think that we can still deregulate trade amongst the three North American partners. For example, instead of having to fill in three different customs pediment forms, you have one single North American pediment. Simply by doing that, which is not even low-hanging fruit, it's fruit on the ground, we could really enhance cross-border trade.

SIEGEL: I want to put to you a, let's say, a radically different reading of the past 20 years under NAFTA, which is the U.S. got access to markets in Mexico. Our agricultural industry out-performed Mexico significantly and huge numbers of Mexican agricultural workers were displaced from their work and they came north. The issues we are talking about are interrelated: NAFTA, free trade and immigration - especially illegal immigration.

SARUKHAN: There's no doubt that there have been dislocating effects as a result of NAFTA. But, at the same time, I could say that one of the areas of greatest success in NAFTA today is the two-way agricultural exports of Mexico and the United States. NAFTA has allowed, for example, tomato growers and avocado growers - and many other industries that have not been able to fully export into the United States - to really drive an agricultural export boom into the U.S.

SIEGEL: Into the United States, yes.

SARUKHAN: There isn't a black and white. It's neither an unmitigated success and it's neither a complete disaster.

SIEGEL: Mexico is permitting a foreign investment in its energy industry. This was a hugely protected nationalized industry for decades. Is that part of what's on the table then...

SARUKHAN: I certainly think that discussion about North America becoming an energy powerhouse will be a very important discussion. I think, for the first time, what you really have the possibility of aspiring to achieve is to develop a common North American paradigm for energy security, energy independence and energy efficiency.

SIEGEL: It's very important to the Canadians that the U.S. approved the Keystone pipeline.

SARUKHAN: Of course, I can...

SIEGEL: Do the Mexicans care?

SARUKHAN: I can - well, Mexico does believe in an integrated North American energy platform. So things like Keystone would be an important piece of that. But I will obviously let our Canadian and American friends that will probably have a discussion on this, on the sidebars of an Obama/Prime Minister Harper discussion to talk about that.

SIEGEL: Ambassador Sarukhan, thank you very much for talking with us.

SARUKHAN: It's a great pleasure to be with you.

SIEGEL: Arturo Sarukhan, who used to be Mexico's ambassador to the United States. He's nowadays a distinguished fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: