As heated talks to reshape trade relations between the United States, Mexico and Canada continue, so are efforts by Arizona and Mexico to strengthen economic ties outside of federal government efforts.
These endeavors aim to counter anything that happens to the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, as both sides see that a robust economy on this border region must be preserved.
Arizona’s business, economic and political leaders aren’t sitting back waiting to see what happens with NAFTA. Six days after talks began on a retooled trade agreement, a delegation of nearly 70 Arizona elected officials, business leaders and regional economy experts went on a trade mission to Mexico City and the state of Guanajuato. They hope to boost trade and strengthen relations that have strained under the current political climate.
The group included Republican and Democratic legislators, as well as representatives from the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the University of Arizona and the Tohono O’odham Nation.
That effort is just one of many activities by organizations: The Tucson Hispanic Chamber and the Arizona Commerce Authority continue to make regular trade missions into Mexico; and the city of Tucson’s international trade office maintains ties with Mexico, as well as with Canada.
Arizona and Sonora maintain an economic super-region where residents and businesses thrive on the jobs and economies that depend on cross-border trade. In 2016, close to 40 percent of Arizona’s $20 billion in exports went to Mexico — our top trading partner — while 38 percent of Arizona’s imports from foreign markets come from our southern neighbor.
Some 100,000 Arizonans depend on this super-region for their jobs. Businesses have locations that maintain ties in both countries. Companies in the United States — Caterpillar is one example — move to our area to be close to clients and operations across the border.
Southern Arizona and Mexico share many industries, including aerospace manufacturing, mining and information technology.
These and many other industry segments create a manufacturing hub that, by necessity, has created a strong transportation and logistics infrastructure. The Port of Nogales and the inland Port of Tucson put the area along major ground and air routes that provide easy access to other parts of the United States.
Companies recognize that Southern Arizona is a place that creates a synergy for successful international trade.
The Tucson Hispanic Chamber has several programs that help companies join the import-export business. Its membership and its Arizona-Sonora Business Resource Guide include resources on both sides of the border. Sun Corridor Inc., originally an economic-development driver for the Tucson area, has expanded its services through four Arizona counties and dozens of Sonora municipalities.
Tweaking NAFTA to bring it up to date is a good idea. But massive changes or its abandonment will unravel a crucial part of the Arizona economy. It is a good sign that all sides are talking about improving the agreement.
But if talks are unsuccessful, Tucson and Southern Arizona have the right attitude to help companies feel confident that regardless of what happens, the trade relationship with Mexico and Canada will remain strong.