NAFTA at 20
My tenure as U.S. ambassador to Mexico ended in September 1993, as the United States and Mexico were on the verge of implementing the North American Free Trade Agreement. Twenty years on, I realize what a privilege it was to participate in the negotiation of a historic pact that would transform relations between our two countries and greatly advance North American competitiveness. NAFTA has enhanced prosperity through increased trade and investment and lower prices for consumers. In 1993, total trade between the U.S. and Mexico amounted to 99 billion dollars-a number that is dwarfed by the huge strides we have since made in integrating our economies. We now trade more than 1 billion dollars in goods and services every day, almost quadrupling our bilateral commerce over two decades.
It is easy to forget that, before NAFTA, these "distant neighbors" were often more interested in resisting economic integration than fostering it. The agreement launched a partnership based on shared economic interests that not only delivered tangible commercial benefits but also institutionalized the bilateral relationship.
Cooperation on a range of bilateral, trilateral and multilateral issues is broader and deeper than ever before. In addition, the agreement helped anchor Mexico as an active participant in world affairs and one of the most open emerging economies, with a network of 44 free trade agreements to date.
As we approach t he 20th anniversary of NAFTA on January 1, our two countries should celebrate these achievements.
The moment is also ripe to reinvigorate our economic partnership and jointly build our global competitiveness. Despite the enormous growth in bilateral trade and investment, we risk leaving opportunities on the table.
A joint competitiveness agenda should begin with making business easier at our common border. Important security gains have been made in the last decade, but trade facilitation has received insufficient attention, even as cross-border supply chains have steadily integrated.
Long and unpredictable crossing times produce bottlenecks, and relatively few ports of entry have seen major upgrades. Recent discussions in Washington on border security overlook the urgent need to direct investment toward infrastructure improvements.
More broadly, our governments should continue to strengthen cooperation in multilateral settings. Mexico's inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations was a critical step, offering a vehicle to update our trade relationship to the standards of a 21st-century agreement and to explore new markets for goods produced jointly.
Now, as transatlantic momentum builds for a free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union, we should consider the possibility of negotiating as a NAFTA bloc. It is no longer accurate to think in terms of U.S. or Mexican or Canadian products when North America as a whole has become the production platform.
The recent launch of a high-level economic dialogue between the U.S. and Mexican administrations, coupled with Mexico's commitment to its domestic reform agenda, represents an encouraging trend. I am hopeful that the dialogue will lead to concrete initiatives that will serve to underline the next 20 years of our NAFTA partnership. Together, it is time to write the next chapter of the North American book.
*John Negroponte, former Ambassador to Mexico. He is chairman of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. In this capacity he leads an initiative focused on the U.S.-Mexico border and competitiveness agenda. He is a former deputy secretary of state and former U.S. ambassador to Mexico.