By SEN. MARCO RUBIO
On Saturday, Enrique Pena Nieto will take office as the new president of Mexico. I had the pleasure of meeting briefly with President-elect Pena Nieto during his short visit to the United States this week, and I am hopeful that his tenure can represent an opportunity to continue and expand on the good relations we have enjoyed with his predecessor Felipe Calderon.
Mexico's longstanding economic, social and cultural ties with the United States have always made our relations with Mexico important. However, since the inauguration of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the dramatic increase in cross-border commerce that resulted, Mexico's economy has grown to become the second largest in Latin America, and it is now the United States' third-largest commercial partner and second-largest market for U.S. exports. For 22 U.S. states, Mexico is the first- or second-largest export market.
Clearly, the need for a positive, productive U.S.-Mexico relationship is driven by far more than the immigration and transnational crime issues that dominate the headlines.
A strong, prosperous Mexico is good for the United States. It represents a large, growing market for a wide variety of U.S. exports. It offers a convenient, economically competitive alternative to China and other Asian countries for foreign corporations looking to manufacture and export to the United States. And a strong Mexico that produces good, legitimate jobs for its growing population will undermine the appeal of criminal organizations and the enticement of undocumented employment in the United States.
The administration's invitation to Mexico in June to join negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership that would lower tariffs and spur economic growth around the Pacific Rim was a welcome step that I applauded at the time. Now, the administration should step up efforts to see the negotiations completed, which would directly benefit both the United States and Mexico, as well other our trading partners in the Western Hemisphere.
The administration should also quickly submit, and Congress vet and approve, legislation implementing the trans-boundary hydrocarbons agreement signed by the United States and Mexico in February, which allows international oil companies to join Mexico's national oil company in joint exploration and development in the Gulf of Mexico, to the benefit of both our economies.
Education is also a strong driver of economic growth, so we should support with our own expertise and know-how Mexican initiatives to dramatically reduce illiteracy over the next few years.
Given that the vast majority of U.S.-Mexico trade crosses our 2,000 mile land border at a limited number of official ports of entry, we should pay special attention to ensuring that our border crossings and the transportation infrastructure that feeds into them are modern, efficient and capable of smoothly and securely facilitating the entry and exit of over $1 billion in legitimate trade and 1 million legal visitors each day.
In a time of fiscal austerity, we will need to be creative and innovative in how we plan and finance such projects, working closely with states and communities on both sides of the border to prioritize initiatives based on their efficiency, viability and potential impact on economic growth.
Efforts in this regard are ongoing in the Bilateral Executive Steering Committee on 21st Century Border Management, as well as various border master planning processes along the U.S.-Mexico border, and we should ensure that they remain a priority.
The United States and Mexico have much to gain from a close, productive relationship. Obviously, issues related to immigration and cooperation in fighting drug trafficking will remain important. We should coordinate closely with the new president on his approach to combating the traffickers, ensuring that our interests are preserved while simultaneously helping Mexico achieve its goal of reducing the violence that has plagued the country and at times struck fear in U.S. border communities.
We can contribute much through increased intelligence sharing, as well as traditional law enforcement. We can also work to undermine the cartels' use of the U.S. financial system to launder their tainted money, and continue our programs to support Mexico's efforts to reform its judicial sector.
Mexico's economic prosperity and social stability are more important to the United States than we usually realize. For our own interests, as well as Mexico's, we must make productive relations with our neighbor to the south a foreign policy priority.