How is the U.S.-Mexico Border Region Represented in the National Capitals?

How is the U.S.-Mexico Border Region Represented in the National Capitals?
By Erik Lee and Victor Remigio Martínez*

A few weeks ago we discussed how the U.S.-Mexico border region (USMBR) has issues with its representation in the two national capitals due to its geographical configuration and isolation. But how is its current political representation in the national capitals characterized? While mayors and state governors and legislators can draw attention to a broad variety of regional and federal issues, the most direct route to the national capitals from the U.S.-Mexico border is through the offices of federal Senators, members of Congress or Federal Deputies on the Mexican side. These federal elected officials are charged with taking the issues of their constituents and giving them a national hearing.

Although U.S. and Mexican federal systems differ in their makeup and emphasis on federal versus state and local power distribution, generally speaking power flows up to the capitals through local Senatorial and Congressional offices and staff (oficinas de enlace in Mexico) to the Congressman/Federal Deputies/Senators themselves and to the numerous, relevant Congressional and Senatorial committees. It is through this slow, deliberative and highly fragmented process that the border region makes its issues known to policymakers in Washington and Mexico City.

On the U.S. side, border issues are myriad and handled among numerous committees and subcommittees depending on which federal agency (State, Homeland Security, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Government Services Administration etc.) has business before its respective oversight committee(s). Exhibit A is the Department of Homeland Security, of which Customs and Border Protection is a key component. DHS is under the oversight of 108 committees (due to the fact that the department was created from pieces of 22 other agencies and carried committee oversight from each piece as a result), not just the House Committee on Homeland Security, chaired by Texas Rep. Michael McCaul. Other examples include the Subcommittee for Western Hemisphere Affairs, (which is part of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs) and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

In the U.S. Congress, there is no one specific Senatorial or Congressional committee or subcommittee convened to take a broad look at issues relating to the U.S.-Mexico border region. The Border Congressional Caucus (one of many political caucuses convened by members of Congress to address myriad issues) consists of the members of the House of Representatives whose districts (each with approximately 711,000 citizens) touch the international boundary. The House members tend to skew Democratic, while the USMBR has even representation in the Senate (four Democrats from California and New Mexico and four Republicans from Arizona and Texas).

In Mexico, formal committees on northern border affairs exist both in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Their relative power vis-à-vis other forces in Congress is limited. These committees are presided over by a member of the National Action Party (PAN) in the Senate and by a member of the left-of-center PRD in the Chamber of Deputies. Neither committee president is from a border state (they hail from Durango and Veracruz, respectively) nor belongs to the PRI, the party of President Peña Nieto. The border affairs portfolio in Mexico’s Congress, then, has more to do with internal negotiations of the political parties than either being from a border district or having knowledge about and/or interest in border affairs.

These challenges notwithstanding, in 2017 the Northern Border Affairs Commission of the Chamber of Deputies approved the Border Fund (Fondo Fronterizo) of approximately $42 million USD for all (northern and southern) border municipios (including all the border municipios of Baja California, Baja California Sur y Quinta Roo). The Fund was earmarked for costs associated with infrastructure needs related to the impact of immigration on these municipalities. In addition, the Fund was also seen as a way to compensate for a significant boost in the value-added tax (IVA) in the border region from 11% to the national rate, 16%. This sensitive taxation issue had a significant impact on the 2015 midterm elections in Mexico, peeling off votes from the PRI–which supported the tax raise in the border region—in favor of the PAN in Baja California and Sonora. Border congressional districts are dominated by the PRI from Chihuahua to Tamaulipas.

Federal elected officials from the two countries have a limited number of forums in which to connect with and influence each other. While individual members of Congress occasionally travel back and forth between the capitals in order to connect with their counterparts and other government officials, the U.S. and Mexico federal legislatures also have an annual “interparliamentary” meeting. Currently border issues are part of that agenda, mostly related to the wall proposal, though the group mostly serves as a forum to air ideas and differences while its influence over policy has historically been limited.

Numerous regional/subnational groups such as the U.S.-Mexico Border Legislative Conference and the U.S.-Mexico Border Mayors Association have traveled to the capitals over the years to advocate for the region, with mixed results. Some of these organizations’ former members are now members of Congress. The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce organizes a large and high-profile annual advocacy trip to Washington, DC and Mexico City.

So the USMBR, an enormous and elongated geographical space crisscrossed by numerous congressional districts and other jurisdictions, finds itself with numerous pressing issues (in the areas discussed in this report as well as others) handled at the federal level in an enormously fragmented fashion. The very structure of how the border is represented in the national capitals goes far in explaining the region’s relative poverty and neglect.

Victor Remigio Martínez has a master’s degree in public policy from ITAM and has been a scholar in regional and border-related issues at ASU and UCSD.

To Update NAFTA, Why Not Start at the Border?

This op-ed originally appeared in the San Diego Business Journal on August 24, 2017.

To Update NAFTA, Why Not Start at the Border?

By Erik Lee and Flavio Olivieri*

Now that the NAFTA renegotiations have begun, a lot of us that look at the U.S.-Mexico border economy are wondering how this will play out for the border region. Interestingly enough, so is U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who made reference to border communities’ “particular equity in the agreement” in his opening statement. Indeed, there is much at stake for border communities, whose economies are based to a significant degree on the idea of a broader North American economy and free trade.

Yet, at first glance, the U.S. Trade Representative’s 17-page document, “Summary of Objectives for the NAFTA Renegotiation,” does not appear to have much of a connection with the U.S-Mexico border…or any region or community in the United States or Mexico, for that matter. The word “border” only shows up as part of the phrase “cross-border data flows.” This is strange, as President Trump’s 2016 campaign was really all about the U.S.-Mexico border, and it would be reasonable to expect the document to connect the NAFTA renegotiation effort to at least some type of border management policy. Perhaps this is because the U.S.-Mexico border has facilitated trillions of dollars in North American trade over the last two decades, which makes it look like an economic success story that this administration simply does not want to admit.

But once you start looking at the document long enough, some interesting ideas begin to emerge. In fact, the document contains a number of elements that, if they come to fruition, have the potential to positively impact economic development along the U.S.-Mexico border region. And this really should be an important objective of these negotiations, as NAFTA 1.0 laid some of the groundwork for a more prosperous border region but left a number of areas wholly undeveloped, including urban planning, transportation planning and the development of cross-border industry clusters, among others. NAFTA 2.0 should help transform border communities from their current status as “pass-through” economies into far more connected, economically sustainable and technologically oriented local economies.

Though not specifically mentioned in the document, the future of the North American Development Bank may be the key piece of the NAFTA 2.0 puzzle for border communities. The NAD Bank—once derisively called the “NADA Bank” by an exasperated George W. Bush for its (then) inability to get key funding to border communities—has evolved into a key player in what continues to be an investment-poor region. Though recapitalization for the NAD Bank has been held up in Congress, the hope is that the NAFTA renegotiations might provide the impetus to re-fund the bank. If the two governments decided to expand the Bank’s mandate, funds might be used to fund basic improvements to border communities beyond wastewater treatment, storm water management and the like and expand into other areas that would boost economic development such as ports of entry funding, transportation systems, expanding local telecom networks, education, research or even health care.

The document also has some long-overdue language on boosting small- and medium-sized enterprises, an emphasis that is borrowed from the Trans-Pacific Partnership that President Trump pulled the United States out of upon entering office. While NAFTA worked well for major multinational corporations, one of the major criticisms of global trade agreements is that small- and medium-sized enterprises have largely been left out of global supply chains. This emphasis on SMEs is important to the border region because a number of the border states are very much small-business states. Arizona is a prime example of this, with its dearth of corporate headquarters.

Yet another area of opportunity that could emerge from the negotiations is services trade. While goods trade has—with some exceptions—continued to grow, services trade lags far behind in volume. This is an area with tremendous room to grow in North America and which could be extremely helpful from an economic development standpoint in border communities. As Erik Lee and Chris Wilson pointed out in Competitive Border Communities, what stands out for many sister city pairs is the lack of cross-border economic connectivity (advanced manufacturing in Mexican border communities which often does not have a local supplier or services base on either the U.S. or Mexican side, for example).

A final point on the importance of place. We mentioned the lack of a focus on the border region itself. All of the above points—financing, SMEs and services—might make more sense as a package if they were brought together at a specific place. Why not the border itself? Specifically, as we have argued elsewhere, a focus on border commercial areas—which could be upgraded through policy, infrastructure and other investments to border economic micro- or even nano-zones—could bring all of this together in one place. The current border commercial areas are responsible for much of the crossborder commerce yet also the negative image of the border itself (lots of congestion, chaotic transportation networks, a lack of public attractions and amenities, and public safety challenges). More cross border interaction between small- and medium-sized companies can be facilitated through a cross-border smart growth urban development program in commercial areas adjacent to land points of entry that in turn will help integrate complementary capabilities, as the large manufacturing companies do.   Sectors such as medical services, software development, video games, film, arts and culture in general could thrive in a more integrated, efficient and pedestrian-focused border environment.

The upcoming NAFTA renegotiation, then, is an opportunity to grow North America if the negotiators can ground the conversation at the community level, and in this case, the cross-border community level. The pieces are there in USTR’s document, but they need further integration.

Erik Lee is executive director of the North American Research Partnership. 

*Flavio Olivieri is executive director of Cali-Baja Bi-National Mega Region, Inc.

U.S.-Mexico Border Mayors: Close Neighbors Dealing with Distant Capitals

This week’s meeting of the U.S.-Mexico Border Mayors Association in San Diego comes at an auspicious time for the United States and Mexico. With the Trump Administration pushing forward on augmenting the already existing border wall and dragging Mexico and Canada to a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, border mayors have a lot to talk about.

Decisions made at distant conference rooms in Washington and Mexico City tend to have an outsized effect on border communities, which have not really had a permanent seat at the table in these discussions. So with or without a Trump Administration, being a mayor on the border is a challenge. One of the principal and most challenging characteristics of the U.S.-Mexico border region simply has to do with distance, which manifests itself in a number of ways.

Border communities are first and foremost amazingly distant from the national capitals. San Diego and Tijuana are over 2600 miles from Washington and 1700 miles from Mexico City. But even Brownsville, Texas, the easternmost U.S. border community, is still over 1,700 miles from Washington, DC. That translates to an epic 26-hour drive or an inconvenient five-hour, one-stop flight. Brownsville’s sister city, Matamoros, Tamaulipas, is by comparison somewhat closer to Mexico City (via an 11.5-hour drive or a four-hour, one-stop flight).

In addition, with the exception of Mexicali, border communities are also remarkably distant from state capitals. On the U.S. side, Sacramento, Phoenix, Santa Fe, and Austin each are hours from the border and usually a long ways from understanding the unique dynamics of these communities.

And finally, border communities are often far from each other. In the United States, Interstate 10 is the closest thing we have to a highway that links communities along the almost 2000 miles of border, while in Mexico, east-west freeway infrastructure runs counter to both the country’s mountainous geography and basic north-south orientation.

The point is this: physical distance translates into psychological and political distance in which obsessions about the border in Washington, the interior of the United States and Mexico City can and do easily fester. Washington’s long-standing obsession with border security and Mexico City’s complicated relationship with the border wall, outmigration and its own border communities are products of this mutual isolation.

This is essentially why organizations such as the Border Mayors Association are so important. These diverse and dispersed communities have needed to come together and present a collective “ask” of the two federal governments basically since forever. In the absence of a functioning Border Governors Conference, this is more important than ever. The challenge will be to mesh the concerns, projects and programs of enormous binational urban complexes such as San Diego/Tijuana region and the El Paso/Las Cruces/Ciudad Juarez region with much smaller cities such as Somerton, Arizona; Ojinaga, Chihuahua; and Alpine, Texas among many others.

If the organization is able to accomplish this, interesting things could happen. These binational urban areas could start to get some long-overdue attention in terms of urban planning and federal project funding, infrastructure could get built, local economies could flourish and cross-border business clusters could be created, expanded and in the process providing much-needed employment. As these outcomes can’t possibly be engineered from meetings in Washington and Mexico City, the key catalysts going forward are mayors, who are uniquely positioned to articulate the specific needs of their complex, crossborder economies to the two federal governments.

KJZZ interview transcript – The Role of States in International Trade

KJZZ Radio’s “The Show”terviewed Executive Director Erik Lee about the role of states in international trade. Below is the transcription of the interview by KJZZ’s Mark Brodie. You can find a link to the audio of this interview at:

KJZZ: Governor Doug Ducey is in Providence, Rhode Island today. It is the first day of the National Governors Association Summer Meeting. Ducey will be taking part in a panel called “States’ Role in Attracting International Investment with the governors of Nevada, Virginia, and Rhode Island. So we wanted to look at how states are looking to boost their foreign trade. And for that we turn to Erik Lee, Executive Director of the North American Research Partnership. And Erik what strategies are states using when it comes to working more with foreign countries?

Erik Lee: I think the first strategy is to talk a good game on trade. I think you hear this from a number of governors around the country who are very aware that global trade, not just NAFTA trade, but global trade can bring benefits. It brings drawbacks as well but it can bring big benefits, particularly to large metro areas in terms of an increased number of jobs in the export sector, and these jobs tend to pay more. And those folks, with those jobs, tend to pay more taxes into local and state coffers.

KJZZ: For how long has this been going on? For how long have states really been looking to boost foreign trade?

Lee: Well, just here in Arizona, the Arizona-Mexico Commission has that kind of economic exchange at the heart of what it is trying to do, and that organization is over fifty years old. So governors have been aware of the importance of trade for quite a while. Now they also have to work with mayors of large and medium sized metro areas in their states, and trade has to land somewhere. So at the end of the day, it’s really mayors and local economic development people who really have to land this economic activity, to really make it happen.

KJZZ: You mentioned governors looking to mayors and other city officials, but I’m wondering if there are instances of states, not necessarily running afoul of federal trade laws or rules or anything like that, but maybe there is some level of conflict between what the federal government is trying to do on trade and what the states are trying to do on trade.

Lee: The irony of the Trump Administration’s pushing of an aggressive renegotiation of NAFTA, with their thinking being that Mexico and Canada are somehow taking advantage of the US, is that I would say for the vast majority of state governors the thinking is completely, 180 degrees the opposite. At this point, I think that state agencies, city governments, economic development professionals, are sufficiently up to date on what the statistics are, how important this trade is for their communities, and they talk to state governors on an ongoing basis. So I think there is that to keep in mind.

KJZZ: How important is geography in a state being able to foster trade and maybe with whom a state fosters trade with? Obviously Arizona and Mexico have a very strong trade relationship, they share a border, but does it work the same way with Washington state and Canada or some of the other northern states and Canada?

Lee: Absolutely. These states do think of themselves as containing megaregions that are important to the economic development of not just the United States, but Canada as well. Geography is really important. The other way geography is important is in terms of where industries tend to locate. Arizona, ironically, has quite a challenge even as a border state. Its geography is in some ways a blessing and in some ways a curse. It’s a blessing in terms of being next door to Mexico and for having a long term familiarity with Mexico. It’s tough being next door to California, where so many Mexican businesspeople are focused on entering the US market, and being close to Texas.

KJZZ: I wanted to ask you about the competition factor between states within a single country. And you reference all the various Southwestern border states that are all competing with each other to get business with Mexico. It sounds like it is a fairly competitive environment.

Lee: It is an extremely competitive environment. As I said at the end of the day, I think it really comes down to mayors and their economic development people in terms of going out and talking to their business partners in Mexico and Canada, and getting them to invest or getting them to locate their operations in a given community.

KJZZ: Can you foresee a time, or maybe this is already in fact happening, when foreign countries are looking more to individual states to trade with as opposed to a unified policy with the entire country.

Lee: I think that is already happening. I think that’s been the case with both Mexico and Canada for quite some time. The folks they have there in the trade agencies, at the federal, state, and provincial levels are very, very savvy about the US market. Very, very focused on places like Silicon Valley, the industrialized Northeast. Southern states, which now have the Tennessees and Alabamas of the world, that have a lot of automotive operations, very focused on those areas. I think a few weeks ago the New York Times had a really interesting story on the fact that Canada’s trading outlook and strategy, vis-a-vis the United States, has really shifted from the federal level to the state and local level.

KJZZ: Erik Lee is the Executive Director of the North American Research Partnership.

NARP commentary to USTR on upcoming NAFTA negotiations

June 12, 2017
United States Trade Representative

Re: Commentary by the North American Research Partnership re: Requests for Comments: Negotiating Objectives Regarding Modernization of North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico

While the Request for Comments from the USTR understandably focuses on tariff-related barriers to modern trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico, we believe that a number of barriers to North American trade are not directly tied to tariffs yet are significant and should therefore be included in the upcoming negotiations. In particular, the U.S.-Mexico border as it exists today presents numerous obstacles to expanded and more just trade between the three countries, and these obstacles without a doubt adversely affect economic development in U.S. border communities. We have identified and expanded upon these in several recent works, including The U.S.-Mexico Border Economy in Transition (2015) and Competitive Border Communities: Mapping and Developing U.S.-Mexico Transborder Industries (2015), both written in collaboration with the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC.

As discussed in Competitive Border Communities, from the standpoint of U.S. border communities, the trade-facilitation approach of border management, while understandable from a macro standpoint as beneficial for the North American economy, has had a high cost for these communities in terms of foregone economic ties to their Mexican sister cities’ economies, which are generally more robust and built largely on advanced manufacturing.

Yet the economic vision of the border embedded in such a trade-facilitation approach can be limiting. The border essentially becomes little more than a point of friction in an otherwise seamless binational economy. Border communities aspire to be more than a node on a transportation network, more than what many of them have titled a “pass-through economy,” one in which too little value is added locally to the billions of dollars of commerce passing through its corridors each year.

In other words, U.S. border communities have a large federal security footprint, a tremendous amount of north-bound trade passing through their ports of entry, and not much to show for it in terms of local economic development.

As such, we present several recommendations below (many of which are from Competitive Border Communities) that touch upon these obstacles below for the USTR’s consideration. We believe that these are relevant to the upcoming discussions in that they are (a) “Relevant barriers to trade in services between the United States and Canada and Mexico that should be addressed in the negotiations,” and (b) “Issues of particular relevance to small and medium-sized businesses that should be addressed in the negotiations,” and (c) “Relevant environmental issues that should be addressed in the negotiations,” all important points in USTR’s Request for Comments.

The United States and Mexican federal governments must play an especially important role in cross-border economic development efforts. Given the fact that border economies have an international boundary running through the middle of them, stakeholder engagement efforts that build partnerships between federal agencies and local communities are invaluable in this process. U.S. and Mexican consulates can serve an expanded facilitating role in these cross-border economic development efforts.

However, given the enormous geographical expanse of the U.S.-Mexico border region and the numerous state and local jurisdictions along the international boundary, improved management of crossborder trade is really a multi-level, multi-jurisdictional task that includes the federal governments, bilateral organizations, state, regional and local governments as well as universities and the private sector. Based upon this understanding, we have the following recommendations.

1. Continue to support and grow the role of the North American Development Bank. The North American Development Bank (which was brought into being from one of the NAFTA side agreements) is one of the only institutions that we have that is specifically focused on infrastructure for the well-being of the border region. Many of the projects that it has funded have helped to mitigate the adverse environmental impacts of trade and underdevelopment in the U.S.-Mexico border region. As such, the bank plays an outsized role in the overall development of U.S border communities, some of which are among the poorest in the United States. In order to continue this important work, the bank needs to be recapitalized by the U.S. and Mexican federal governments, and the U.S. and Mexican federal governments need to continue to work together to find areas in which to utilize the banks resources and expertise.

2. Border communities should actively utilize cluster-based economic development, with its focus on collaboration among government, industry and educational institutions, as an opportunity to engage federal officials managing the border as partners in a joint effort. Too often, outreach efforts by border officials can be summed up as a process of receiving complaints from the local community.

3. Link up economic development organizations along the border through a variety of formal and informal mechanisms. As noted in previous work, the U.S.-Mexico border region is an enormous geographic space; this has, over time, served to make border-wide communication difficult. An annual meeting of border region economic development professionals and a robust online directory of individuals and organizations working in the field are two practical steps toward the sharing of best practices as well as addressing shared challenges and opportunities that could over time greatly enhance the capacity and awareness in the area. An annual advocacy day in each of the national capitals might also strengthen coordination among border communities while clearly communicating to federal officials that there are commonalities (albeit also differences) among the needs of the border subregions.

4. Minimize crossborder travel restrictions for university faculty, staff and students. University systems’ restrictions on faculty, staff and student welfare too often fail to reflect the actual risk inherent in crossborder travel. These concerns need to be weighed against their potential to hinder development of key faculty and student contacts, professional development, intercultural competency, and language skills; as well as the development of innovation ecosystems that are critically important to cluster development. University systems, state governments, and the U.S. Department of State (which issues travel warnings) must all work together to overcome this challenge and to lessen the formidible administrative costs associated with bringing students and workers across the border for even short-term student exchanges and internships. We found some border universities resistant to processing the substantial paperwork required in case of less-than-semester-long programs.

5. The two federal governments need to further harmonize (and localize) data collection across the border. This would allow better analysis of the crossborder economies of the southwest United States and northern Mexico, and it would improve the ability of border communities to communicate to potential investors their full range of assets and market size.

6. Update and streamline specialist, worker and student internship NAFTA visas to foster mobility. The NAFTA visa continues to be underutilized but could play a key role in building robust binational industry clusters. Firms and universities that want to develop internship programs utilizing the new binational Memorandum of Understanding on internships could benefit from a more useful NAFTA visa.

7. Create binational cluster councils with public, private and education sectors all at the table. Clusters need some level of organization in order to successfully employ cluster-based economic development strategies. This includes organization within a cluster or industry group and, potentially also the creation of a broader platform, or cluster council, through which the private sector, governments and universities pursue strategies to foster the development of a number of key industries (similar to the organizational structure currently used in Nuevo León). Creating binational cluster councils could foment the coming together of industry leaders and related cluster participants to create cluster-specific groups.
Furthermore, the role of mega regions should be encouraged to monitor the growth of emerging binational industries that could be good candidates for cluster-based economic development. A number of small industries—while not yet major employers— performed well enough between 2009 and 2013 in terms of percentage employment growth to warrant ongoing attention from mega regions. Subregional economic development organizations and government should keep close track of such emerging and dynamic industries, engaging them and exploring what they (the industry, not the individual companies) need to foster further growth.

See pp. 14-15 in Competitive Border Communities: Mapping and Developing U.S.-Mexico Transborder Industries.

We thank you for the opportunity to submit comments for these important negotiations.

Colin Robertson – Bolstering Canada’s International Reputation

NARP Advisory Board member Colin Robertson is a former Canadian diplomat; Senior Advisor, Dentons, LLP; and Vice President and Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute. He writes a regular column for The Globe and Mail newspaper that analyzes Canada’s role in the world and often North America specifically. During 2016 we will reprint or excerpt selected recently written columns, which are posted with the permission of the author. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the the author and do not necessarily reflect a position of the North American Research Partnership.

Three things Trudeau can do to bolster Canada’s international reputation
Colin Robertson  The Globe and Mail Tuesday, Jan. 05, 2016

“It’s 3 a.m. There’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing. … Who do you want answering that phone?” National security experience didn’t do it for Hillary Clinton in 2008, but this ad could do the trick in 2016. Public anxieties about security and a fragmenting international order are rising.

Assessing geopolitical risk is a booming business for diplomats, spies and money managers.

Continuing instability in the Middle East and North Africa tops the Council on Foreign Relations’ annual Preventative Priorities Survey. At the top of the list is the conflict in Syria and Iraq that creates refugees and breeds terrorists. Current tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are a piece of the deep, historical divisions between Shiite and Sunni, Persian and Arab.

Other top-tier contingencies include a crisis with North Korea; disruptive cyberattacks; a terrorist attack on the U.S. or an ally; political violence in Turkey; political instability in Egypt or Afghanistan. Lower-tier contingencies include more Russian aggression in Ukraine; Russia-NATO tensions; European Union divisions caused by the refugee influx; South China Sea confrontations sparked by China.

Nor can we count on prosperous times to assuage tensions. Economists predict another anemic year for China and Europe. Global trade, the engine of growth since 1945, has slowed.

Another challenge that should worry policy-makers: Global democratization is in retreat.

In its annual assessment of social, political and economic freedoms, Freedom House reports that the state of freedom worsened significantly in nearly every part of the world.” The bright spots last year were few: fair elections in Argentina and Tunisia, Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory in Myanmar.

With more governments censoring information and expanding surveillance, Internet freedom declined for a fifth-consecutive year. Not since the Cold War have nation states’ commitment to an international system built on democratic norms been less durable.

Other human rights watchdogs drew similar conclusions, warning that women are particular targets of Islamic terrorists, such as Islamic State and Boko Haram.

Amnesty International wants a “dramatic shift” in how the international community handles the 19.5 million refugees. Resettlement placement remains disappointingly low. Canada, it noted, provided inspiration in pledging to welcome 25,000.

To demonstrate that “Canada is back,” we can do more to support international order.

First, actively recommit to internationalism.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rededicated Canada to multilateralism, and he actively engaged at the quartet of recent international summits (G20, Commonwealth, APEC, Climate). On climate change, Canada put up money and worked constructively to help close the Paris deal.

More effective than creating new democracy institutes is bringing vigour and accountability to existing multilateral programs. This should include our own Parliamentary Centre and our international youth leadership programs.

Second, identify those niches where we can make a difference.

Our expertise in international refugee matters should be reactivated, drawing on our successful experiment in pluralism. We can also demonstrate to the Trumpsters and scaremongers that a generous resettlement policy is good international citizenship and builds a stronger nation.

Containing nuclear proliferation is another niche where we can help. We have both experience and expertise that can also serve our commercial interests in a world that wants to wean itself off carbon.

The “Canadian vaccine” that helped contain the Ebola epidemic makes the case for continuing investment in collaborative scientific research.

Water will likely replace oil as the vital commodity of the 21st century. It’s already the source of regional conflicts. With a century trans-boundary water-management experience, we can help. Significant advances in effective water usage by our oil, gas and hydro industries have wider potential.

And third, let’s invest in the Canadian Forces, especially our navy.

In an era of recurrent humanitarian disasters, there will be frequent calls at 3 a.m. for first responders. The Canadian Forces have demonstrated proficiency, but they need both trained personnel and new kit.

The promised defence review must re-examine our procurement policies. What continuing premium are we prepared to pay, not just in dollars but in fleet readiness, to “Buy Canada”?

Earning our way back to a level of international engagement commensurate with our aspirations means activist diplomacy and Canadian Forces with muscle. This requires long-term investments in money and resources.

The post-Second World War institutions that guided international relations through decades of bipolarity and years of unipolarity are under intense stress.

Coping with the new multipolarity requires every nation, including Canada, to step up their commitment to multilateralism. Queen Elizabeth II got it right in her Christmas broadcast, saying: “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

The international scene will test Mr. Trudeau’s “sunny ways.” By finding our niches, we can demonstrate that “Canada is back.”

Recommendation 1 from Competitive Border Communities

Over the next several weeks, we will periodically take a closer look at the eight principal recommendations from our 2015 report, Competitive Border Communities: Mapping and Developing U.S.-Mexico Transborder Industries, a collaboration with our partners at the Mexico Institute. Today we look at the first recommendation. 

Our leadoff recommendation (you can find the full list of recommendations on pages 14-15 of the report) has to do with the key economic development role played by the two federal governments at what is a very delineated, securitized border (which could not be more different from Europe’s Schengen area). To wit:
The United States and Mexican federal governments must play an especially important role in cross-border economic development efforts. Given the fact that border economies have an international boundary running through the middle of them, stakeholder engagement efforts that build partnerships between federal agencies and local communities are invaluable in this process. U.S. and Mexican consulates can serve an expanded facilitating role in these cross-border economic development efforts.
In other words, because of the highly “securitized” nature of the U.S.-Mexico border, border communities’ independent spirit won’t be enough to get the job done. In addition, post-9/11 security enhancements along the U.S.-Mexico border by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have—as we have argued elsewhere—have made it that much harder to do economic development in border communities (much of which should be cross-border economic development).

Therefore, if the two federal governments want to utilize the border as a platform for economic integration, development and growth by helping to build transborder industry clusters, they must play a significant role in local cluster-based economic development efforts. Specifically, U.S. and Mexican Consulates in border cities will need to be staffed with additional experts on trade and export promotion, customs processes, agricultural issues and related topics. In addition, they are in the best position to pull together the numerous federal agencies with a stake in border economic issues.  There is much to do and the work has just begun, but the return on investment is potentially enormous.

Summer 2015 Border Tour: Conducting Industry Mapping focus groups along the U.S.- Mexico Border

In June 2015, the NARP team, along with the Mexico Institute, toured the entire U.S.- Mexico border and conducted five focus groups for the U.S.-Mexico Border Industry Mapping initiative. Thanks to the generous support of USAID Mexico and the Council of State Governments West, the  U.S.-Mexico Border Industry Mapping initiative seeks to identify, map and analyze key industries that are highly concentrated, binational and dynamic operating within five binational sub-regions along the entire U.S.- Mexico border region.  The goal of these focus groups was to gain a more detailed understanding of regional supply chains, to discuss approaches to cluster-based economic development, and to develop steps that could be taken by local and federal actors to facilitate the further development of key industrial clusters.

The sessions were hosted by a variety of public-, private- and academic entities and featured a variety of stakeholders, including cluster representatives, chambers of commerce, city and county governments, mega regions, universities, U.S. and Mexican consulates, and economic development organizations. Approximately 200 stakeholders participated in the five focus groups.

Date Site Host
June 22, 2015 San Diego, California CaliBaja Mega Region
June 24, 2015 Tucson, Arizona Consulate of Mexico in Tucson
June 26, 2015 El Paso, Texas BorderPlex Alliance
June 29, 2015 Laredo, Texas Binational Center, Texas A&M International University
June 30, 2015 Brownsville, Texas United Brownsville

At each session, the research team presented findings from the initial quantitative research pertaining to the sub region and engaged local economic development experts and industry leaders to get their feedback. Please click on the following links to see presentations and pictures from each focus group:

Special thanks to our partners for hosting/sponsoring our focus groups, particularly the CaliBaja Mega Region, the Consulate of Mexico in Tucson, Pima Association of Governments, the BorderPlex Alliance, the Binational Center at Texas A&M International University, and United Brownsville.

Past, Present and Future Borders of the World

NARP Energy Portfolio Director Rick Van Schoik travelled to University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) and Matamoros, Tamaulipas last week to talk about the “U.S.- Mexico Border Economy in Transition” report, to develop an understanding of binational innovation clusters there with United Brownsville, and also to discuss borders of the world yesterday, today, and tomorrow at the UTB Comparative Borders Conference. He spoke about failed states and their borders, those borders fractured by military aggression, those becoming more fixed, those still fuzzy, those, due to pressures, that are becoming more fluid and flexible, and finally those that are as open, or to continue the alliteration, freer.  He then commented on what all this implied for North American sovereignty and borders.  For example Mexico’s recent change to their constitution means law enforcement officers from the U.S can apply to carry weapons in the course of their duty, another way that the two nations have moved the border away from the border.

PRESS RELEASE: Canyon Vista Medical Center Opening Doors to Mexico


For Immediate Release

Canyon Vista Medical Center Opening Doors to Mexico

April 1, 2015

Contact: RUTH SOBERANES, (602) 616-6209,

As work concludes on the new 177,000 square foot Canyon Vista Regional Health Center in Sierra Vista, Arizona, distinguished guests near and far are getting ready to celebrate its grand opening on April 23, 2015. The Canyon Vista Medical Center Mexico Reception will take place on Friday, April 10, 2015 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Canyon Vista Medical Center in Sierra Vista, AZ.

Among those welcoming the opening of thestate of the art hospital are Mexican dignitaries, who recognize the benefits this medical center may reap for the U.S. – Mexico border region.

The new hospital will provide 100 beds (19 designated for adult psychiatry), state of the art technology and equipment, spacious inpatient and outpatient facilities, an outdoor dining area and a heliport servicing two helicopters. Not only will the hospital provide high quality care for residents of Sierra Vista, Fort Huachuca and Cochise County at large, but it will also be open to Mexican patients seeking high-quality medical care just north of the border.

Dr. Dean French, CEO of Canyon Vista Regional Health Center, affirms that the new hospital will expand healthcare options for the region at large and bring greater economic opportunities to the area. “We look forward to this new day in healthcare and strengthening the region by providing access to key services for our community and patients. The new medical center provides a one-stop shop for multiple medical practices that will include OB/GYN, pediatrics, internal medicine, cardiology, orthopedics, sports medicine and general surgery. Additionally, it will provide advanced wound care with hyperbaric oxygen, adult and pediatric rehabilitation, and chemotherapeutic infusion services. The consolidation of all of these services under one roof will drastically improve clinical integration and increase efficiency in care,” states French.

As Fort Huachuca—a major source of jobs for thousands of Sierra Vista residents—faces reductions in government funding, the city must find ways to diversify its economy and find viable economic alternatives to insure its sustainability. Mignonne Hollis, Sierra Vista Economic Development Foundation Executive Director, agrees that the hospital will provide greater economic opportunities for the region. “We see this as a beginning to our friendship with our neighbors down south and the chance to start a conversation about how to grow our local economies together,” says Hollis. Among other community leaders, she recognizes that one way to focus their economic development efforts is to strengthen its trade relations with Mexico and provide greater access to healthcare. The new opening of the Canyon Vista Medical Center provides the perfect opportunity to strengthen the transborder healthcare cluster in Sonora and Arizona.

For more information, please contact Ruth Soberanes at or 602-616-6209.