“Why time is right for candid discussions with U.S., Mexico”
For many years, I have had the privilege of chairing the United States-Mexico Interparliamentary Group, a bilateral working group established in 1960 to allow members of Congress from both countries to convene regularly and discuss ways in which our nations can enhance our partnership.
On June 4, the IPG held its 53rd meeting. As the chairman, I led a bipartisan delegation from Washington, D.C., to Mexico City to meet with our counterparts in the Mexican congress during one of the more challenging times in our relationship’s history.
Nevertheless, challenging times require candid discussions — and despite some of the inflammatory rhetoric from both countries, our respective delegations engaged in legislative diplomacy by sharing ideas and opinions in a cordial, respectful manner.
From the need to combat organized crime and secure our borders, to President Trump’s intention to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), our delegations made progress on the most pressing bilateral challenges facing our nations today.
Transnational criminal organizations are one of the greatest threats facing America, according to announcements from Secretary of Homeland Security General John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. For these criminals, morality will never supersede the value of the dollar — they will engage in any illicit activity if the price is right, including the trafficking of humans, narcotics and terrorists – and undermine the national security of both Mexico and the United States. Their networks are more sophisticated than ever — and their unlawful, violent operations have resulted in unprecedented levels of migration and exacerbated an opioid epidemic in the U.S. that took the lives of approximately 60,000 Americans last year.
As chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and a senior Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, we must do more to combat this growing threat. I believe working proactively with our Mexican partners is critical to our success.
In order to limit the reach and influence of these organizations, we must enhance our efforts to deny them the ability to generate revenue. This includes enhancing security along our southern border with Mexico through infrastructure, personnel and technology.
While I applaud efforts by the Mexican government to strengthen judicial and security institutions to combat corruption and organized crime, their country remains a major producer of methamphetamines and fentanyl. It’s also a transit country for cocaine and heroin, the majority of which is trafficked through Central America, one of the busiest transit corridors for illicit activity in the world.
As I highlighted with my counterparts in Mexico City, the Mexican government must address weaknesses in security along their southern border with Guatemala — and stem the flow of unchecked migrants making the perilous journey north and drugs destined for the U.S.
Enhancing counternarcotic efforts and reinforcing border enforcement at this natural chokepoint will go far in stemming unchecked migration and cutting drugs routes. Once an apprehensive partner in this effort, our counterparts in Mexico City expressed a willingness to improve efforts to secure their southern border, as well as cooperating with us to secure the one we share — a welcomed step in the right direction. The bottom line is that increased security cooperation means more stability — and stability means more bilateral investment. The renegotiation of NAFTA will also serve as an opportunity to further investment opportunities between the U.S. and Mexico.
In 1994, when NAFTA was ratified, cellular phones were hardly “smart.” The idea that Mexico would one day privatize its state-owned energy giant, Petróleos Mexicanos, also known as PEMEX, to allow for foreign investment was nothing more than a pipe dream.
Over two decades later, there is consensus that the NAFTA framework is outdated and the world has changed in substantial ways since its inception. For this reason, I believe we should revisit NAFTA to ensure the rules governing free and fair trade reflect today’s technological advances and economic reforms.
This is especially true in the case of NAFTA’s protectionist energy provisions, which allow the Mexican government to reserve the right to restrict foreign investment into Mexico’s energy sector despite bold, liberal reforms made by President Enrique Peña Nieto in 2014. Mexico has already begun to auction off certain leases to foreign companies for oil exploration, but the outdated provisions within the agreement undermine the concept of free and fair trade and stifle investment by creating uncertainty amongst investors.
During this year’s IPG meeting, I welcomed assurances from our Mexican counterparts that they would be willing to work with the U.S. to resolve this issue and signaled a readiness to include additional protections for foreign energy investors into renegotiations of NAFTA, something President Trump should support.
The Path Forward
It’s clear that differences of opinion between the U.S. and Mexico remain. However, we owe it to the citizens of our two nations to have candid discussions about the challenges we face and how best to address them together.
Through forums like the IPG, we will continue to strengthen our bilateral relationship and advance our common goals. Both of our countries’ security and economic prosperity depends on it.
If you would like to view the original bilateral agreement signed at this year’s Interparliamentary Group meeting in Mexico, City, click here.
Read the original op-ed in Austin American-Statesman here.