Introduction: Imagining 2024

Pamela K. Starr

As happens only once every twelve years, Mexico and the United States both held presidential elections in 2012.  The balloting took place in somewhat unsettled settings. The United States struggled to emerge from a painful recession and to deal with a wide range of urgent international challenges with a government hobbled by partisan gridlock.  Mexico confronted a profound and persistent threat to citizen security created by organized crime and nagging questions about the capacity of the country to govern itself effectively in a democratic context.  And both nations struggled to find the best approaches to a wide range of shared policy challenges: economic integration, citizen and border security, energy security, public health, and immigration among others. All issues that matter not only as foreign policy concerns but that also affect the daily lives of the vast majority of Mexicans and Americans.

U.S.-Mexico relations face a particular challenge due to this peculiar characteristic, the intertwining of domestic and foreign policy which some refer to as its “intermestic” quality.  Each country impacts the others’ ability to create jobs and compete in international markets, to protect public health and the environment, and to ensure citizen security. And in each country the others’ influence can be positive as well as negative.  Working together to manage these binational challenges cannot be avoided.  At the same time, the sharp power imbalance and complicated history that defines U.S.-Mexico relations means that each can be a prickly partner which makes cooperation both complex and a seemingly perpetual work-in-progress.

At the start of 2013, the foreign policy teams of the new Mexican president, Enrique Pena Nieto, and of the reelected Obama administration in the United States turned again to the question of how to best cooperate on issues of common concern while continuing to advance national interests, even those that may come into conflict with those of their neighbor.  In this task, policy makers were able to draw on a wide variety of publications offering policy guidance.  Throughout 2012 analysts of U.S.-Mexico relations published dozens of books, essays, and opinion pieces on various aspects of the bilateral relationship in an effort to take advantage of this electorally generated window of opportunity to have an impact on policy formation.

This literature contains rich analyses of key bilateral issues including their history, the current policy challenge, obstacles and opportunities, and policy recommendations.  But from the perspective of policymaking these studies present two important shortcomings.  First, they are dominated by long, detailed essays and books that are often inaccessible to policymakers on tight schedules.  Second, since making foreign policy is a dynamic process, many of the policy recommendations in essays published in traditional books are quickly overtaken by events on the ground.

This edited volume will add to this extensive literature not merely by publishing a new collection essays written by a binational lineup of recognized analysts and policymakers. It is specifically designed to avoid these pitfalls of traditional publishing.  Rather than rely on long essays that are often needed to justify the costs of traditional publishing, we present short policy briefs that can speak directly to policymakers on both sides of the border.  Each of these chapter essays is published as the centerpiece of an electronic resource page filled with information about the topic at hand.  The chapter itself contains hyperlinks embedded in the text that place at the reader’s fingertips key resources and bibliographic sources cited by the authors.  The rest of the resource page includes a position devoted to recent news and video presentations, three positions devoted to resources about key concepts discussed in the chapter, and five positions devoted to what we consider to be “must reads” about the topic.  All of these positions include resources published in English and Spanish as well as brief content summaries of these resources in both Spanish and English.

Equally important, by not relying on paper publishing, the chapters of this volume, and their associated resource pages, can be updated as needed to keep the analysis and background information fresh and relevant.  Readers can find these updates by searching the website by date for recent changes or additions.

The content of this volume plays on the twelve-year U.S.-Mexican presidential cycle in a slightly different way from past works that used that coincidence as an historical marker. In looking back to 2000, the last time these two countries elected presidents in the same year, we were struck by the depth of the change in bilateral relations.  Twelve years ago policy recommendations emanating from the academic community emphasized the persistence of the historic role of conflict in U.S.-Mexico relations. Now the emphasis is on the potential for cooperation, focusing the questions posed in 2012 on the potential for shared interests and coordinated action. And yet the preoccupations of 2000 were not forgotten.  Even though our two countries are so intertwined that domestic policy success often depends on bilateral interaction, and they remain separated by a profound power differential, significant cultural differences, deeply felt national pride, and a consequently difficult relationship historically.

The dynamism and complexity of this bilateral reality were motive enough for the wave of publications in a double election year.  But the distance between 2000 and 2012 raised additional and equally important questions:  How is that these historic “frenemies” – neither fully friends nor enemies – managed to change the essence of their diplomatic relationship from one imbued with controversy and conflict to one dominated by active efforts to cooperate?  And given that striking change, one is obliged to ask where the relationship might be in another twelve years, and more to the point where should, and can, it be in 2024, and what policies will help us reach this goal?  These are the puzzles that unify the chapters in this book.

Each chapter undertakes three interrelated tasks.  Each reviews the current state of the relationship with regard to the issue under analysis, asks where the relationship can and should be in 2024 to best advance shared national interests, and what policies should be implemented to get there.

In remarks at the University of Southern California in early November 2013, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton singled out three areas where increased bilateral interaction is of particular benefit to our two countries – opening markets and free trade, protecting public health, and energy development.  At an event sponsored by the U.S.-Mexico Foundation on behalf of the Mexican American Leadership Initiative (and where the redesigned U.S.-Mexico Network was launched), Secretary Clinton argued that in the effort to remain globally competitive, “our best allies and partners…are right here nearby”, 2) our ability to contain the H1-N1 flu outbreak in 2009 reflected years of “working together to build up our abilities” to catch new diseases and prevent them from spreading, and  3) on the energy front, “we need to have a seamless electricity grid that crosses our border that enables growth on both sides of that border in new ways.”

The imagining 2024 project will include chapters on a wide range of issues in the bilateral relationship, many of which will be forthcoming in the months ahead as indicated in the table of contents.  The three chapters currently published, however, cover precisely the three bilateral concerns identified by Secretary Clinton:  economy and trade, health care, and unconventional energy.

Luis De la Calle and Christopher Wilson’s chapter on Economy and Trade begins with the observation that NAFTA-generated changes in the depth and nature of U.S.-Mexico economic interactions have created a truly unique bilateral trade relationship characterized as much by joint production as by the exchange of goods and services.  This fact means that the two countries “sink or swim together” in their competitive capacity to trade with the rest of the world.

The current context in each country should also make collaboration to build a regional export platform easier than in the past.  Mexico is rapidly becoming a middle class country with an increasingly competitive industrial sector.  In the United States, shifts in production costs are encouraging a return of manufacturing from overseas just as a sluggish recovery and a huge trade deficit signal the need to increase exports.  This context leads De la Calle and Wilson to imagine a North American region that is one the way to becoming a net exporter by 2024.

Two things are required to get there:  1) intra-regional efforts to strengthen competitiveness including investments in border infrastructure, policies to increases access to competitive energy supplies, and increased attention to trade in services.  And 2) cooperative efforts internationally to encourage more open and fair world trade, beginning with a common North American position in the Trans-Pacific Partnership process.  And success requires leadership not only from the White House and Los Pinos, it also demands that the binational business community come out of its post-NAFTA slumber and push for these policy changes.

In their chapter on Health Care System Complementarity, Julio Frenk and Octavio Gomez focus on public health policies and the exchange of health services to highlight the significant expansion of binational health care collaboration during the past 20 years. In the wake of NAFTA, and especially of 9/11, Mexico and the United States expanded and formalized their health care communication and cooperation allowing for a great improvement in binational epidemiological surveillance and response, increased border collaboration to deal with diabetes, obesity, and breast cancer, and the creation of binational health weeks.  The past two decades have also witnessed an expansion in the binational exchange of health services, investment, suppliers, and consumers.

While this enhanced health care collaboration is a positive development for both policy and consumer access to health care services in both countries, there is plenty of room to further strengthen this cooperation and exchange.  On the policy front, the goal for 2024 should be the creation of a truly regional public health system “capable of anticipating, preventing, and controlling” public health threats in North America.  With regard to exchange, three tangible goals stand out:  creating a binational regulatory regime that promotes further exchange of services, making health insurance portable across our shared border, and working to chip away at the enduring problem of insuring the Mexican undocumented population in the United States.

Jeremy Martin’s energy chapter emphasizes the potentially powerful role of Clean Energy and Intelligent Interconnections in the bilateral relationship.  In the context of the shale gas revolution and rapidly expanding demand for renewables such as wind and solar, future energy security increasingly depends on the development of these unconventional energy sources.  For Mexico and the United States this is a fortuitous circumstance because of the complimentary characteristics of their domestic markets for unconventional energy creating the opportunity for mutual gain, and due to the non-polemical nature of these energy topics.

In the area of shale gas, the US producers possess the technology, knowhow, and experience needed to extract this resource (along with significant reserves) and Mexico is home to enormous untapped reserves, and the two countries share the Eagle Ford shale gas Formation.  In the area of wind and solar energy, climate change concerns are motivating efforts to expand use of renewables for electric energy generation in the US while northern Mexico possess significant wind and solar generation potential.

Despite these complimentary market structures, Martin notes significant challenges ahead, including the need for policy change in Mexico that would encourage private investment in the shale gas sector and the expansion of electricity interconnections between the two countries.  The therefore recommends the creation of a U.S.-Mexico Shale Gas Council and beefing up the Cross-Border Electricity Task Force formed in 2010 to identify the most advantageous framework for cross-border development of unconventional resources.

According to Martin, this binational energy cooperation should also be feasible politically since unconventional energy resources are largely free of the weight of history and nationalism that permeates discussions related to the conventional petroleum sector.  Further, by collaborating on unconventional resources, the two countries should discover a capacity to work together productively on energy matters.

As an electronic book, we had the luxury of publishing these chapters as soon as they were ready rather than having to wait and publish all of the books’ chapters together.  This means that in the coming weeks and months additional chapters, with their associated resource pages will be added on security, immigration, diplomacy, the Mexican diaspora in the United States, and as many other issues of bilateral importance for which we can recruit talented and insightful authors.  Moreover, the flexibility of electronic publishing has allowed us to update the news items regularly and to spotlight policy developments and new sources of information and analysis. Meanwhile, an ongoing dialogue about these topics is unfolding in the conversations hosted by the US-Mexico Network.