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A Promising Start for a Border Partnership

February 14, 2001|JORGE G. CASTANEDA | Jorge G. Castaneda is foreign minister of Mexico

MEXICO CITY — President Bush's visit to Mexico this week has given rise to high expectations of a new partnership between the U.S. and its neighbor. The visit will take place under auspicious circumstances as both Bush and President Vicente Fox are at the beginning of their terms. The fact that Bush's first official international trip should be to Mexico is a clear signal of the prominence that he gives to relations with Mexico. In turn, Fox is well aware of the singular place that the U.S. occupies on Mexico's international agenda.

Since the late 1980s, profound changes have occurred in Mexico and the United States, as well as in the international arena. Both countries are uniquely placed to play a defining role in shaping the post-Cold War world. Arguably, there has never been a better time for Mexico and the U.S. to work together on the basis of a full, mature and equitable partnership for prosperity.

A full relationship requires that both countries constructively engage not only in their mutual agenda, but also on relevant regional and global issues, regardless of whether they have a direct impact on bilateral interests. Greater inter-connectedness means that we must try harder to jointly deal with issues such as trans-national organized crime or migration flows. It also requires that we address issues such as the structural reforms needed to guarantee long-term growth and economic convergence between our two peoples, the protection of human rights and the advancement of democracy throughout the world and the hemisphere. Evidently, reaching understanding and achieving consensus between two democratic nations, which Mexico and the United States are today, is harder than in the past, when Mexico's authoritarian rule sometimes made things easier. But democracies working together make for a more solid and lasting relationship.

A mature relationship means that both countries can explicitly refer to their common perceptions and agreements as well as to their differences or disagreements. And they can talk about differences on bilateral issues such as border infrastructure or trucking disputes, as well as on regional issues such as Cuba or the Kyoto Protocol on combating global warming. Maturity also means that the long-term objectives of the bilateral agenda will not be jeopardized even if disagreements occur, as they will in a complex relationship. Maturity requires that transparency becomes the name of the game: There must be no embarrassing agreements to hide or carefully glossed-over disagreements.

And finally, an equitable relationship entails the need to foster growth and development to narrow the social, environmental and even digital divide that separates our societies. There is an array of economic instruments at the disposal of both nations that must be used to address the needs of the lesser-developed areas and the most vulnerable groups in our societies.

Moreover, regardless of the imbalance between Mexico and the U.S., both governments must engage each other in a constructive and balanced fashion, fostering and deepening trust. The best way that both countries can work toward this is through permanent and predictable engagement, thus eliminating surprises and discarding unilateral actions, such as the process through which the U.S. annually certifies whether other nations are cooperating in the fight against drugs. Cooperation between Mexico and the U.S. is not a nicety; it is a necessity.

The newfound legitimacy and self-assuredness of the Mexican government has been acknowledged both at home and abroad. The winds of change in Mexico are laying a more stable and solid foundation on which to build a new relationship with the U.S.

North America is about more than trade; it is becoming a larger reality as the peoples, economies and environments of Canada, the United States and Mexico become increasingly intertwined. The North American Free Trade Agreement has represented an ambitious effort to redefine North America's role in the hemisphere and in the world. It also has created a long-term perspective for the relationship. But there is much more that Mexico and the United States can do together. They must go one step beyond. The meeting between Fox and Bush in Guanajuato offers a credible and unique opportunity to set the stage for a more promising future, a future of shared prosperity and true partnership.

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