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North American Working Group Member Discusses the Bush Institute's Initiative

February 1, 2016 5 minute Read
by José Manuel Suarez Mier
by José Manuel Suarez Mier

A lot has been accomplished in the 22 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect, but there is much still to be done.

I attended last week a conference in San Diego, California organized by the George W. Bush Institute to discuss the competitiveness of the North American area, consisting of Canada, Mexico and the U.S., which is the most competitive region in the world according to thescorecard prepared by the Institute.

The working group that explores the competitiveness of North America focuses on three major ways to improve its role as world leader: taking advantage of its much better demographic profile compared to other zones, emphasizing better education and training levels for its work force; consolidate its leadership in energy accelerating innovation; and improve a decaying border infrastructure needing large investments.

A lot has been accomplished in the 22 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect as is clearly shown by the astonishing numbers of regional trade, but there is much still to be done which becomes obvious when one travels along the U.S.-Mexican borderline.

In the San Diego meeting we visited the frontier in several locations to see some model projects that are already operating or will soon be doing so. First, we visited the new installations that allow passengers from Mexico or the U.S. to expediently use Tijuana’s international airport even if they live in San Diego.

When coming from San Diego, the passenger arrives to the brand new and beautiful 120 million dollar installations of CBX in which they check-in for their flight and luggage and cross to Mexico across the bi-national bridge to access Tijuana’s airport, where he passes Mexican security, immigration and customs before boarding his flight.      

This project began operating last year and it is estimated that it will attract between 1.5 and 2 million passengers in 2016 and will help relieve the congestion on the land crossing, since already 3 million users of Tijuana’s airport come from the U.S., and now they will have a direct, more convenient and less costly exclusive access.

Although this layout is a welcome improvement to air travel in the area, since San Diego’s Lindbergh airport, unlike Tijuana’s, has no space to grow, it is a pale shadow of the great project conceived at the beginning of the 1990’s to build a binational airport to compete with Los Angeles and San Francisco as a major international hub, that the then Mexican secretary of Communications Andres Caso vetoed, swearing that it would be built over his dead body!

Next, we visited the new Mexican customs installations at El Chaparral where we saw the 20-plus lanes of entry to Mexico capable of detecting prohibited objects traveling south without delays to the drivers, and how the immigration authorities process thousands of persons being deported through this site. We were also briefed on new protocols in place at the Mexican side of the Otay crossing to pre-clear, by agents of both nations, the cargo heading north, thus avoiding a wasteful second inspection.

Next, we went to the town of La Rumorosa to visit a brand new binational wind-farm built on 13,000 acres of barren but windy soil owned by ejidatarios –communal landowners- that will now have the chance of a decent living by leasing their land. This project, which cost $300 million, has 50 huge wind-mills, and exports all its electricity to San Diego.

It is very encouraging to see the construction of new infrastructure that addresses the massive needs of the U.S.-Mexico border, but it is also frustrating that it takes so long and is done in such a piecemeal manner. Hopefully, the good work of the Bush Center can succeed in accelerating these efforts, so indispensable to raise the competitiveness of North America.  

Manuel Suárez-Mier is an economic and financial consultant based in Washington, D.C. who has taught at numerous universities in Mexico and the United States.  This commentary was originally published in Mexico City’s daily Excélsior on January 29, 2016.