Mexico’s new ambassador to the U.S. says the country is prepared to “modernize” the North American Free Trade Agreement and wants to restart a guest-worker system that could address concerns about illegal immigration.

“There is no need to fight each other,” Carlos Manuel Sada said during a private meeting Monday with political and business leaders at Hacienda del Sol Resort. “We are working together in order to compete with the rest of the world.”

In response to the U.S. president-elect’s criticism of NAFTA and calls for a renegotiation, Sada said Mexico realizes the benefits of the agreement have not been properly recognized in either country.

“The battle of public opinion, we have lost so far,” he said, adding that both countries must educate their citizens about the agreement. Efforts such as renaming the agreement or a campaign to promote its benefits could ease tensions about NAFTA, he said.

“We need to emphasize the data, the job growth in the U.S. because of NAFTA,” Sada said. “We complement each other.”

An engineer, Sada previously served as consul general in Los Angeles and New York. The native of Oaxaca, capital of the state of Oaxaca, served as the city’s mayor from 1993 to 1995.

NAFTA was signed into law in 1994.

“At the time, relations with the U.S. were minimal,” Sada said, noting only about 2.3 million jobs were created as a result of trade. Today, that number has grown to 60 million jobs in both countries.

Mexico now has trade agreements with 46 countries and is negotiating with Turkey and Jordan.

There is about 40 percent of U.S. content in Mexican exports. Auto production, for example, requires the movement of components across the border up to eight times during the manufacturing process, he said.

“We don’t just buy and sell from each other,” Sada said. “We produce together … and compete with the rest of the world.”

He said as part of modernizing NAFTA, the movement of workers across the border must be reinstated.

He said many expatriates have expressed a desire to return to Mexico and maintain their homes and families there.

“The circular migration of the past was broken and that’s when the problems began,” Sada said.

“We need to re-establish the movement.”

Dennis Minano, chairman of the Sun Corridor Inc. Board of Directors, co-hosted the ambassador along with Mexico’s Tucson consul, Ricardo Piñeda.

Minano called it a “high honor” that Sada chose Tucson as the first city to visit on his U.S. tour.

The ambassador expressed his delight with the recent successes in Tucson recruiting and expanding businesses, such as Home Goods, Caterpillar and Raytheon, Minano said.

“He sees the potential in Tucson’s new economic model,” he said.

Sada was expected to visit Nogales Tuesday to see the Mariposa Port of Entry, which he last visited 20 years ago.

Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at grico@tucson.com

Reporter

Gabriela's newspaper career began at the Tucson Citizen in '86 as the "movie-times girl" where she'd call local theaters for showtimes. Since then, she's written about crime, education, immigration, trade and business. She's been with the Star since 2007.