By Emilio Cadena *
More than two years after Covid-19 upended face-to-face meetings and international travel, the U.S.-Mexico Foundation organized a fantastic three-day event in Mexico City to debate the future of North America, the dynamic trading block extending all the way from Alaska’s Bering Sea all the way to the Mexican Caribbean coast. For many years, I have attended countless receptions and dinners devoted to North American integration but this time the so-called North Capital Forum in downtown Mexico City felt different.
Many of the 750 participants to Mexico City’s North Capital Forum made clear the tremendous opportunity and urgent need to consolidate North America as the most competitive region in the world. As I was listening to the many panelists presenting their ideas of how this process may pan out, I truly felt that regardless of whether we sometimes notice it or not the “North American Way” of building things together is somehow already a reality. Day after day, the North American Way is uniting workers in Canada, farmers in the US and tourism entrepreneurs in Mexico.
What are the main components that make up the North American Way?
My first thought about how to catalyze North American competitiveness is for champions of integration to think about it not through an adversarial prism versus Asia. Major players across the North American continent would be better off by thinking of producing together the highest quality goods and services that people need through an inclusive, environmentally friendly, and price-accessible process. Personally, the goal of consolidating North America is not a matter of winning a perpetual race versus China but of serving the U.S., Canadian and Mexican peoples.
Second, I believe that the region’s booming manufacturing sector provides the best example of what the North American Way of building things together. Today, parts and components travel several times across borders within North America to build world-class products like high-end home appliances, affordable vehicles and strategic defense industry inputs. Since 1994, North American manufacturing integration has improved workers’ conditions and increased profits than in other sectors. The trilateral industrial platform benefits peoples and the private sector. The development of resilient supply-chains through North America’s manufacturing has created a unique sense of trust. Today, U.S companies see Mexican or Canadian manufacturing plants united in purpose, goals and values. Every day, they work as a team. For me, the respect for each country’s comparative advantages is at the heart of the North American Way.
A third thought I have around the North American Way are the challenges it faces. I do believe that many people still don’t see the strategic relevance of moving towards further integration. Perhaps, many people still don’t consider how relevant is our day-to-day collaboration on things like food production or leisure. Notwithstanding the common bonds that unite Mexico with Latin American countries (like Colombia, Argentina, Brazil or Cuba) the reality is that the U.S is the most relevant partner for Mexico’s well-being. This is reflected all across the spectrum of U.S.-Mexico interactions from mere geographical reasons to family bonds and day-to-day border life. Mexico is truly a North American country. At the same time, the U.S. needs to make North America a foreign policy priority. It would also be great to see Canada playing a larger role in the trilateral space. Meanwhile, Mexico should no longer tiptoe around its commitment in several areas. Close collaboration among government officials is always welcome but the process depends on forces beyond governments. Civil society must be brought in more forcefully into the analysis and solving of common challenges.
The North American Way is not something that grew out of government but from collaboration between peoples building things together. Examples abound from brewing beer, temporary workers and high-tech hubs that are helping North America succeed. As stakeholders in one of the world’s most powerful blocks, we must commit to a paradigm that further delivers benefits for peoples across the region.
* Emilio Cadena is President & CEO of Grupo Prodensa and Chairman of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation. His consulting group has helped over 700 foreign companies establish manufacturing operations in Mexico and is routinely recognized among the top places to work in Mexico. He is also co-chairman of the Border Transformation Working Group of the U.S.-Mexico CEO Dialogue an initiative between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Mexico’s Business Coordinating Council (CCE, in Spanish). The US-Mexico Foundation, a binational non-profit organization dedicated to fostering bilateral cooperation and improving the understanding between the United States and Mexico by activating key people in the relationship that once were dormant. Twitter: @usmexfound