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Comments by Juan Joseé Bremer | Center for North American Studies

Comments by Juan José Bremer, Ambassador of Mexico to the United States

November 6, 2002
Washington, D.C.

President Ladner, Vice-President Pastor, Ambassador Kergin, Friends, all,

It is with great satisfaction that I join you in celebrating the inaugural lecture of the Center for North American Studies at American University, a most welcome initiative.

Let me also join you in welcoming Dr. Robert Pastor back to Washington, where he started a very distinguished career in which bridging the worlds of academia and public policy has been a constant theme.

Your well known drive and initiative, Bob, guarantee that today's seminar will be only the first in many activities that will keep issues crucial to our three countries in the front burner of public discussion.

The creation of the Center comes at the right moment. We find ourselves at a peculiar point in the development of the growing ties that bind Canada, Mexico and the United States together.

While the first impact of September the 11th was to focus our attention solely on the most immediate challenges in the area of security, its most enduring consequences for the future may well strengthen in a broader sense our ties as a common region.

The way in which we all responded to these new challenges is a proof of the depth of collaboration and of the levels of trust that we have achieved over the last decade.

One may argue that our response has been, in very good measure, shaped by our success in those areas in which our partnership is based.

The Mexico-United States case is a particularly clear illustration of this proposition. As we all know, over the last few months we have engaged in a constructive dialogue on border security, management and control.

This has been influenced by the fact that, after practically nine years of trading under NAFTA, Mexico accounts today for almost 15% of U.S. exports as well as 11% of U.S. imports.

A great majority of these trade flows take place through our common land border.

Our common aim is to guarantee that our borders effectively stop threatening and unwanted flows, and at the same time encourage beneficial ones.

The lesson is quite simple: we are increasingly important to each other. The exponential expansion of trade and production sharing arrangements during the last few years creates new realities that must be included in any serious decision making process.

The way we are responding to those threats is also a reflection of the increasing levels of trust that we have achieved after a decade long process of "confidence building" in very delicate areas related, in particular, to our common fight against international crime.

Increasing levels of trust are also central in any discussion of where our three countries may be headed in the future.

In the coming years, the Center for North American Studies will surely be fundamental not only by underlining the need to move forward in our trilateral agenda but also, in relation to very concrete aspects of our interaction.

  • furthering the mutual knowledge about our three countries, in each one of them by, for example, promoting student and scholar exchange programs
  • highlighting issues that we cannot afford to neglect as we deal with our immediate agenda,
  • helping us identify both bottlenecks and areas of potential growth, and
  • proposing adjustments in areas such as existing mechanisms for trade dispute resolution and new approaches to deal with human flows.

In reminding us of the common future we face as a region in the making, the Center will find a solid foundation in the truly impressive changes that relations among our three countries have experienced.

Any evaluation of the future of North America, however, has to be grounded in an understanding of the peculiarities of our process of integration, which has quite limited similarities with those that have taken place in other parts of the world.

North American integration is firmly based on the extremely solid relations that Mexico and Canada have with the United States.

If you allow me a metaphor from the realm of basic geometry, North American relations may be understood as an irregular or scalene triangle with one of its sides significantly shorter than the other two.

This reality has consequences. Our respective bilateral agendas are certainly richer than what may be called the trilateral one. Each one of them includes issues, migration in the case of Mexico, for example, that may be given different weight when looked at from the vantage point of the other.

Even in matters such as shared natural resources, where Mexico and Canada both face the kinds of challenges that geographical vicinity brings about, the specific ways in which policy debates must be framed may be quite different.

Think only, for example of the contrasting realities of water management in the northern and southern borders of the United States.

However, as has been emphasized by our three heads of government in Quebec and Monterrey, there are also an increasing number of matters in relation to which the development of a trilateral perspective may be not only possible but increasingly necessary.

Among these issues of common concern one may include the environment and sustainable development, energy, standards, border management, financial practices and collaboration, cultural exchanges, educational cooperation, public-private sectors' partnerships and important aspects of immigration policy.

Developing a trilateral perspective on issues such as these makes sense.  

I am convinced that our three countries would gain by expanding the scale of our association. As I already said, the way we may go about it will be different from other regions integration processes.

In our case, the two longest sides of our triangle have evolved and continue to evolve as a result of what could be called "the force of things", with our governments often playing catch up to what the many forces that bind us together transform into reality.

The development of our triangle's third side, however, cannot be left to the forces of inertia. A conscious decision on the part of governments may be necessary in this case.

The challenges we face in this regard are significant, but the distance we have been able to go during the short span of not even a decade also provides good reasons for optimism.

Frequently, when the case of Mexico is discussed in the context of NAFTA's achievements, emphasis is placed on the expansion of trade and investment ties with the United States or on the associated and dramatic transformation experienced by my country's economy and foreign sector.

There is, however, another very significant development that is often overlooked: the solid development that relations between Mexico and Canada have experienced during the same period.

The third side of our triangle is certainly shorter than the other two, but its sustained growth is one of most promising developments of the recent past.

In some areas, such as the management of migratory flows, Mexico and Canada are in fact ahead of what, at least until now, has proven to be feasible in Mexico- United States relations.

During the last decade Mexico and Canada have also explored coincidences in foreign policy issues where their positions have been at the same time very close and quite distinct from those of the U.S., proving that a friendly and constructive partnership must provide space for honest and constructive interchange of points of view.

Our ability to continue building on this foundation and to develop a truly North American approach to the challenges we face will be determined by our commitment to a vision of a common future.

In the case of my country, the long term vision of a North American Community in the making that President Fox's espoused from the very beginning of his term has provided a clear sense of direction.

Mexico is convinced that North American cooperation is ripe to usher in an era of wider and deeper commitment.

We have, in fact, proposed the establishment of a Wise Men Group that may help us identify concrete ways and issues in which our trilateral collaboration can more effectively enhance our partnership and further advance our common values and objectives.

Politics is, of course, the art of the possible and we will have to always deal with the unavoidable tension that exists between that which we aim for and that which may be achievable at a given point in time.

A clear and share vision of a more secure, and prosperous North America will provide the necessary guide as we navigate these challenging waters. I am convinced that the newly created Center for North American Studies will make a substantial contribution to this goal.

Thank you.