NAFTA: 20 Years Later

Ambassador Sandra Fuentes-Berain, Mexican Consul General to New York, offers her thoughts about NAFTA’s past, present and future.  More…

by Raj Shrestha, MBA ‘14

NAFTA: 20 Years Later

Earlier this year President Barack Obama traveled to Mexico for a one-day summit to meet with his North American counterparts marking the 20th anniversary of NAFTA, a trade agreement designed to eliminate cross-border duties and other barriers. Since its inception, NAFTA has been fervently debated whether it is a success story or damaging policy.[1] Even after two decades NAFTA is still the subject of wide speculation and discussion. This year NAFTA has been flung into the spotlight to determine how successful the agreement has been and should it influence future trade decisions.

            To discuss NAFTA and its past, present, and future roles, Ambassador Sandra Fuentes-Berain, General Consul of Mexico in New York, was honored as the keynote speaker in a panel featuring some of Cornell University’s most prominent professors namely, Lourdes Casanova, Lance Compa, Gary Fields, and acting as moderator Gustavo Flores-Macias. Ambassador Fuentes-Berain has had an impressive track record as a career diplomat. She has ascended all the ranks of the Foreign Service until she was appointed Ambassador in 1988 during her time as Consul General in Hong Kong. She has served as Mexico’s Head of Mission to the European Union and Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, Canada, France, and The Netherlands. She has also held the role of Consul General in Milan, where she headed the Office for the Promotion of Businesses between Mexico and the European Union[2]

Ambassador Fuentes-Berain opened with her perspectives on the benefits Mexico received after joining NAFTA. She was a strong advocate of NAFTA and believed the agreement to represent a huge step in Mexico revamping its economy as it eliminated industrial tariffs, opened up the agricultural market, and improved intellectual property protections. Since 1994, when the agreement was first implemented, Mexico has emerged as one of the leading exporters in the world and trade between Mexico, United States, and Canada has soared 300%. The facts that Ambassador Fuentes-Berain presented were positive and upbeat in regards to the benefits of NAFTA. She stressed that the importance of NAFTA goes beyond just boosting trade; it has deeply integrated the production and supply chain of Mexican and American corporations. Despite the countries’ historical and cultural contrasts, some products cross the border up to eight times from beginning to end illustrating how intertwined both markets are. She expressed her satisfaction on the willingness and commitment of Mexico, Canada, and the United States on improving and completing previous agreements characterized by friendly and constructive dialogue. An example of this can be seen during the most recent North American Leaders Summit where talks were focused around ways to continue to forge dynamic trade relationships fostering productivity, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

            To build on the successes of NAFTA, Ambassador Fuentes-Berain mentioned the installation of the Mexican Advisory Board of the Mexico-U.S. Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation, and Research (FOBESII). The FOBESII was the brainchild of presidents Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico and Barack Obama of the United States. The goal was to shape a shared vision on educational cooperation and to propose specific short and medium-term initiatives for bilateral cooperation and policy coordination.[3] One of the expectations of FOBESII is to send over 100,000 students to the United States from Mexico, and to bring over 100,000 from the Unites to Mexico via research and academic purposes.

            Ambassador Fuentes-Berain closed with the hope that more attention is focused on the importance of trade and trade reform. “There is much to do,” exclaimed Ambassador Fuentes-Berain, “and that is why the administration of President Pena Nieto has made great efforts to achieve the approval of far reaching reforms in strategic sectors like education, financial services, telecommunication, taxes, anti-trust, politics and energy. This is to ensure that there is a continual increase in productivity, creation of new jobs, and attraction of more investments to achieve sustainable economic growth in the foreseeable future.”

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