Rothschild, Sonora mayor find receptive ears on Mexico City trip

2013-07-21T00:00:00Z 2013-07-22T11:04:20Z Rothschild, Sonora mayor find receptive ears on Mexico City tripGabriela Rico, Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

MEXICO CITY - It took less than an hour for the mayors of Tucson and Nogales, Sonora, to get what they had come for.

During a meeting at the Ministry of Communications and Transport, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Nogales, Sonora, Mayor Ramon Guzman Muñoz expressed concern that the commercial lanes at the Mariposa Port of Entry will soon be in full operation and the road in Sonora isn't ready.

"I'll send a team," said Raul Murrieta Cummins, the secretary of infrastructure. "We want to deliver results."

The mayors and members of their trade delegation looked startled as Murrieta directed his staff to report to Nogales by the end of the month.

He then walked over to a red telephone that connects all cabinet-level members, called Alejandro Chacón Dominguez, Mexico's head of customs, and invited him to the impromptu meeting.

Earlier in the week, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced a $300 billion investment in infrastructure through 2018. Improving Highway 15 through Sonora is among the projects identified as top priority.

"When we talk about Mexico's economy, this is one of the most important roads," Murrieta said of the highway that runs north to the border. "If we don't do it fast, we're not going to do it."

Securing that visit was the highlight of the trip for both Rothschild and Guzman, who have worked in recent months to rally municipal leaders in Arizona to travel south of the border to build business relationships.

Cabinet members and congressional representatives commented repeatedly on the unlikely partnership between the two mayors, who require translators for conversations beyond small talk.

An official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said meetings at that level are usually coordinated by governors or federal politicians, not mayors.

"But I suppose Washington, D.C., and Mexico City are too far away from their shared border to understand the vital relationship between Arizona and Sonora," said Sergio Alcocer Martinez de Castro, the ministry's undersecretary for North America.

"I appreciate this visit so much that I can only say 'yes,'" he said in response to an invitation to visit Arizona and Sonora.

Alcocer said that when Vice President Joe Biden comes to Mexico in September, he will suggest that one of the four upcoming binational border meetings be held in Nogales or Tucson.

Congressional visit

The delegation to Mexico City was diverse and included representatives of the Tucson airport, Rio Rico's Fresh Produce Association, the Pascua Yaqui Nation, Tucson's chamber, tourism and private businesses.

Aside from federal officials, the group met with ambassadors from the U.S. and China, global economists and corporations looking for partnerships in Arizona.

A much-anticipated meeting with Manlio Fabio Beltrones, leader of the House of Representatives in Mexico, turned into a full-blown congressional salute.

The mayors and Pascua Yaqui Chairman Peter Yucupicio were presented to Congress by Beltrones and Sonora Congressman Antonio Astiazaran and received rousing applause.

"They see us as the people who are going to lead this," Rothschild said.

Added Guzman, "We found them grateful, even surprised, by our visit and our partnership."

Business connections

While the mayors focused on meeting with government leaders, members of delegation's private sector split off to meet with corporate officials.

COMCE, the private business council for foreign trade, investment and technology in Mexico, commended the group for its visit but also admonished them to keep Arizona in a positive light.

"We were told, 'You guys need to be more visible,'" said Larry Lucero, director of customer programs and services for Tucson Electric Power, who was on the trip as a representative of the Tucson Metro Chamber.

During a briefing with the delegation, Lucero said that what the mayors have started must be reinforced by business leaders.

For example, he said, during a tour of the pharmaceutical company Grupo Silanes, the conversation turned to partnerships with the University of Arizona, C-Path and Sanofi.

One division of Grupo Silanes - Instituto Bioclon - developed an antivenin drug for scorpion stings that was FDA approved in 2011 after clinical trials at UA.

The company's diabetes drug now has 14 percent of the global market share.

"There is tremendous opportunity to partner with them," Lucero said. "They have a unique mind-set about collaborating with competitors."

Highlights of the trade mission

• During a meeting with some congressional representatives from Sonora, Tucson Airport Authority President and CEO Bonnie Allin asked for their support for a regional flight from Tucson to spots in Sonora.

She said COMCE, the private business council for foreign trade, investment and technology in Mexico, agreed to endorse the new air service as long as it remained in Northern Mexico.

The Mexican airline, with which the airport authority is negotiating, would use a 30-passenger aircraft and offer alternating flights to Guaymas, Hermosillo, Ciudad Obregon and Puerto Peñasco.

The airline is "running the numbers" Allin said, calculating fares and preparing sample schedules.

• Ulises Gomez Nolasco, coordinator of foreign affairs for Mexico's Attorney General, was asked for more federal security in the border city.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said there has been "overemphasis on security to the detriment of trade" and asked for the attorney general's office to pledge more attention to security on the southern side of the line.

"We believe the federal government is finally looking at this as a regional economic issue," he said.

Mayor Ramon Guzman Muñoz of Nogales, Sonora, echoed Rothschild's statement.

"We are an industrial community with great potential, and we need the federal presence and protection," he said.

At the end of the meeting, Gomez told the mayors they had made their case for getting more support from the federal government along the U.S. border.

"Your goal has been met," he said. "We are on your side."

• When Guzman pointed out that the economic development organization Pro Mexico hadn't included Nogales, Sonora, in its campaign materials, Francisco Rosenzweig Mendialdua, undersecretary of foreign trade for the Ministry of the Economy, raised an eyebrow.

"That will be corrected," he said. Several assistants scribbled in their notebooks or tapped on their iPads.

"These meetings are rare so when I tell you that you have the support of our government, I mean it," Rosenzweig said, then scheduled a conference call for next month to follow up. "Let's keep in touch on a regular basis."

• Regarding comments by Mexican officials that this sort of visit is unusual from "this part of the United States" Rothschild, who was on his second trade mission to Mexico City, sighed.

"I've been told that on both of my trips," he said. "But I can't change the past. I can only look forward."

Guzman said the face-to-face meetings will help improve Arizona's reputation among Mexico's policymakers.

"We left them with a better understanding of what is happening along our shared border," he said. "Our visit left a formidable impression."

Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at grico@azstarnet.com or 573-4232.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.