The United States needs to strengthen its economic alliances with Mexico and Canada to compete with emerging markets in Asia, former Mexican President Vicente Fox said Feb. 19 in Santa Barbara.
“I hope that the present [U.S.] administration has vision and learns that to recover — to fully recover — the competitiveness of this nation and the future growth of gross domestic product, we have to work together. We have to have a vision of a NAFTA-plus,” he said.
Speaking at the annual Westmont College President’s breakfast, Fox said the U.S., Mexico and Canada need to refocus on the North America Free Trade Agreement to stem job losses to Asia. He also spoke about the U.S.’ role in helping curb Mexican drug wars and the effects of the global financial crisis on Latin America.
NAFTA, enacted in 1994, eliminated tariffs on many imports between Mexico and the U.S. and sought to eliminate non-tariff trade barriers between North American countries.
“Today Mexico buys more product from the United States than do Germany, Italy and France together. We are a very solid partner of this nation,” Fox said.
Fox outlined his vision for a “NAFTA-plus” — a beefed-up version of the current agreement that would include more integration between the three North American countries. At the breakfast, Fox said that strengthening NAFTA is imperative for North America to be able to compete with China and India.
“That’s why we — the U.S., Mexico and Canada — created this great organization of NAFTA,” Fox said. “To try and stop job loss to Asia.”
He cited a forecast by Goldman Sachs that predicts that China will supersede the U.S. as the leading world economy by 2040. The U.S. will come in second place, followed by India, Japan and Mexico.
“What we see here is that three of the nations that are going to lead on that list come from Asia,” Fox said. “We see those emerging economies getting stronger and stronger. We’re going through a power shift from the West to the East.”
If it wants to end drug-related violence in Mexico, the United States should consider legalizing drugs, Fox said. The comments generated a low murmur and sporadic applause from some portions of the breakfast’s audience.
Mexico finds itself jammed between drug producers in South America and drug consumers in the U.S., Fox said. He urged the United States to continue helping fight drug-related crime and violence in his country. “It’s a shared responsibility and a shared problem,” he said.
The flood of drug-related killings that peaked over the past two years has further damaged a broken Mexican economy, said Fox, who was succeeded by Felipe Calderón, the country’s current president. “Tourism is not flowing to the nation as it used to; foreign investment is not coming like it used to,” Fox said.
“We need to end the war,” he said. “It’s time to debate legalizing drugs,” he said, adding, “Then maybe we can separate violence from what is a health problem.”
Truck driver to president
Fox is a former president of Coca-Cola’s Mexican division, a position he ascended to after starting as a truck driver for the company. Following his success in business, Fox entered politics and was governor of the Mexican state of Guanajuato for four years.
His presidential election in 2000 was a historic one for the nation, ending the 71-year reign of the then-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party and peacefully ushering in democratic rule. His legacy is widely regarded as one promoting freedom and economic reform.
While he has at times been criticized in his home country for acceding to U.S. interests too often, Fox is credited with reducing Mexico’s foreign debt and lowering the country’s inflation, as well as encouraging foreign investment and trade.