U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Latin America Bureau


Fact Sheet: Cooperation With Mexico: In Our National Interest

The United States and Mexico have a unique relationship. They share a commitment to economic growth, which benefits the peoples of both nations; a belief that open, democratic governance provides for the most legitimate representation of its citizenry; and a common border and the stewardship of the border environment.

Over the past decade, U.S. and Mexican political, economic, business, and social leaders have accelerated cooperation on a range of issues to find the best solutions to benefit the peoples of both countries. Such cooperation is symbolized by the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA─together with the supplemental environment and labor agreements, the complimentary Border Environment Cooperation Commission, and the North American Development Bank─unites the United States, Mexico, and Canada in a shared vision for the future of the continent. U.S.-Mexico bilateral cooperative programs further enhance this partnership.

Mexico and the North American Economy

The Mexican economy has undergone significant restructuring in the past decade. Mexico has gradually reduced its dependence on petroleum exports and has liberalized its trade and investment laws. It became a contracting party of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1986. Mexico joined the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in 1993 and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1994.

In 1993, Mexico signed NAFTA. NAFTA marks the first time in the history of U.S. trade policy that environmental concerns have been addressed in a comprehensive trade agreement. In addition, the parallel labor agreement reflects concerns about protecting workers' rights and institutes strong dispute resolution mechanisms

Mexico's economic growth directly affects the U.S. economy:

-- It is the United States' third-largest trading partner; and -- It is one of the fastest-growing major export markets for U.S. goods and services.

U.S. exports to Mexico have more than quadrupled─from $12.3 billion in 1986 to more than $50 billion in 1994, resulting in a $1.3 billion trade surplus in 1994.

NAFTA has expanded trade: U.S.-Mexico trade increased 23% in 1994, well above the 13.4% growth in 1993. NAFTA also has helped lock in economic reforms in Mexico.

Economic Crisis of 1994. An economic crisis, which began with the devaluation of the peso in December 1994, is causing a severe economic contraction in Mexico and will have a short-term, negative impact on U.S. exports to Mexico. The crisis generated an international effort led by the United States to assist Mexico in overcoming its economic problems and resuming growth. On February 21, 1995, the United States and Mexico signed agreements implementing a $20-billion U.S. support package which uses funds from the Treasury Department's Exchange Stabilization Fund, intended to stabilize exchange rates and maintain orderly market conditions in Mexico.

International financial institutions and Mexico's main trading partners will help ensure that the crisis will not derail the significant economic reform efforts undertaken by Mexico. The Mexican Government has restated its commitment to continue reform to strengthen the free market, liberalize trade, and further privatize and deregulate economic activity.

Democracy and Electoral Reforms in Mexico

Mexico is undergoing a profound political transformation. Since 1989, it has embarked on a series of reforms that have introduced an unprecedented level of openness to the political system. Although the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has dominated Mexico since its founding in 1929, opposition parties have made significant gains in recent elections, including four governorships, the mayoralties of the country's second- and third-largest cities, 200 of 500 seats in the lower house of the Congress, and 33 of 128 seats in the Senate.

President Zedillo is committed strongly to further political reforms in campaign and party financing, full autonomy for electoral institutions, and unbiased access to the media by candidates. To pursue these reforms, the Mexican Government and leaders of the four largest political parties signed, in January 1995, a pact pledging cooperation and, in April, established permanent working groups to serve as a forum for discussing these issues.

The U.S. Government has supported Mexico's efforts to achieve a fully participatory democracy. For the 1994 elections, the United States provided about $1.5 million through USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy to support election-related activities in Mexico. The Mexican Government spent nearly $1 billion for electoral technology and to support activities related to the 1994 elections.

Human Rights. Mexico also has recognized long-standing problems of corruption and human rights abuses by governmental officials. President Zedillo has initiated a sweeping reform of the Mexican justice system. The creation in 1990 of the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) and subsequent expansion of human rights commissions to all states and the federal district provided a means by which human rights allegations could be addressed.

Mexican and international non-governmental human rights organizations (NGOs) have severely criticized the Mexican military, holding them responsible for abuses occurring during the January 1994 uprising in Chiapas. NGOs remain critical of the Mexican Government's inability to bring charges in connection with those human rights violations. However, there have not been any substantiated abuses by the military during actions in February 1995 to restore governmental control of rural areas in Chiapas. The CNDH, however, reported abuses, including torture, committed by police or other law enforcement personnel against suspected rebel leaders and supporters taken into custody during the February operations.

U.S.-Mexico Border

The U.S.-Mexico border is one of the most active and vibrant international boundaries in the world. In 1994, nearly 331 million people crossed the border from Mexico into the United States.

Enforcement of laws on immigration, environment and natural resources, and illegal drugs, as well as transportation, are some of the key issues facing the two nations in the border area. Local, state, and federal officials from both nations meet frequently to seek common, cooperative solutions to these mutual problems. NAFTA also created additional mechanisms through which the U.S., Mexico, and Canada can cooperate on border issues.

Other Bilateral Cooperation

Immigration. According to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) estimates, about 3.8 million undocumented migrants were residing in the United States in June 1994. About half of these illegal residents entered the United States by unlawfully crossing the southern border from Mexico, while the other half entered as legal visitors and remained. The INS estimates that 98% of the migrants who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border are Mexican; visitors who remain come from all over the world. Each year, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehends about 1 million Mexicans and returns them to Mexico. Mexico cooperates with the United States on efforts to reduce the use of Mexican territory by third-country nationals as a springboard for entry into the United States. Mexico deports more than 100,000 third-country migrants each year.

In August 1994, a Border Patrol strategic plan for gaining control of U.S. borders was approved. The plan focuses on preventing illegal entry instead of apprehending aliens once they have entered the country. It aims to provide barriers against entry in those areas with the highest concentration of illegal activity.

The United States and Mexico also work actively to make the border a safer place for citizens of both countries. Mexico created a special police force to combat crime against migrants. Mexico has effectively addressed the dangerous problem of pedestrians running through the southbound vehicular lanes of I-5 to avoid U.S. immigration inspections. Mexico and the United States have both taken action to close access to the infamous cross-border drainage tunnels in Nogales.

Illegal Drugs. The United States and Mexico are active partners in counter-narcotics matters. This is vital to the efforts of each country's law enforcement communities. Mexico is increasing cooperation on joint task forces that target drug kingpins, money-laundering, and precursor chemicals. The United States and Mexico are developing new initiatives on fugitives, stolen vehicles, arms-trafficking, prisoner transfers, and white-collar crime.

Narcotics-related corruption has been high on the bilateral agenda for some time. The United States is working on several fronts with the Government of Mexico to help reduce the amount of drugs transiting Mexico and to combat corruption where it does exist.

President Zedillo, having named drug-trafficking as Mexico's chief national security problem, has launched a package of judicial reforms to strengthen anti-drug and anti-crime institutions and efforts. Opposition National Action Party legislator Antonio Lozano Gracia was appointed as Attorney General and immediately initiated a reorganization and reform effort within the Attorney General's office to deal with corruption.

The Mexican Government has made significant advances in its own anti- narcotics efforts, including increased seizures of cocaine, expansion of the eradication of opium poppies, and efforts to strengthen the criminal code for drug crimes. In 1993, it assumed the full cost of the counter-narcotics programs that previously had been supported by U.S. funds.

Mexican law-enforcement officials seized more than 247 metric tons of cocaine, made more than 100,000 drug-related arrests, and eradicated 147,000 hectares of illicit drug crops─opium poppy and marijuana─during 1989-94. In 1994, Mexican seizures of heroin, marijuana, and precursor chemicals increased, as did destruction of clandestine laboratories and landing strips.

Cocaine seizures fell during 1994, in large part because Mexico was unable to interdict the multi-ton jet cargo shipments of the drug by South American drug cartels. The United States works with Mexico to strengthen its capability to interdict these jet shipments and to enhance cooperation with the Government of Colombia.

Environment and Natural Resources. The United States and Mexico long have worked together to manage natural resources and to resolve environmental matters which affect the lives of people along the border. The following cooperative activities highlight continuing and new efforts to address environmental challenges.

-- As a result of the environmental agreement negotiated as part of NAFTA, the United States, Mexico, and Canada created a North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation to strengthen environmental laws and address common environmental concerns. The United States and Mexico established two institutions in November 1993: The Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC) works with local communities to develop plans for better meeting their need for environmental facilities, and the North American Development Bank (NADBank) leverages private-sector capital to finance project construction certified by the BECC.

-- The International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), under the 1944 Water Treaty, focuses on border sanitation problems and is responsible for flood control, conservation and division of the use of border waters, and maintaining the international boundary. The IBWC─working with the Environmental Protection Agency and border state and local authorities in both countries─completed several border sewage projects, including the expansion of a wastewater treatment plant at Nogales, and is building wastewater treatment and disposal facilities at Nuevo Laredo and Tijuana.

-- The United States and Mexico intensified efforts to protect and improve human health conditions and the natural ecosystems along the border region with the signing of the 1983 La Paz Agreement. This agreement established a general framework, resulting in six bilateral technical working groups and specific problem-solving annexes that deal with border environmental issues. Current initiatives include a proposal for an international air-quality improvement district in El Paso/Cuidad Juarez and efforts to deal with air pollution from the Carbon I/II coal- fired power plants in Mexico, which affect visibility in the Big Bend National Park.

-- Under the Integrated Border Environment Plan of 1992, the United States and Mexico in 1995 will review ongoing environmental initiatives with the objective of developing a new border environmental plan, "Border 2000," with public participation and input.

-- The Good Neighbor Environmental Board, initiated in 1994, strongly emphasizes the needs for binational approaches to environmental and infrastructure issues and needs within border states.

-- The Public Health Service of the Department of Health and Human Services and its Mexican counterpart work with their state and local colleagues in a unique binational health association─the Border Health Association (BHA)─founded in 1942. The BHA will hold its next annual meeting in June 1995 in San Diego, California.

-- In 1994, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Mexican Petroleum Institute (IMP) extended a 1990 memorandum of understanding which supports Los Alamos Laboratory and IMP studies of modeling and state-of- the-art measurement equipment to better categorize the sources and abatement strategies related to air pollution in Mexico City.

-- The United States and Mexico have about 100 joint wildlife/park projects, ranging from conservation and management of migratory bird habitats, to protecting endangered species such as the jaguar, to research on tropical birds. The two countries also have cooperated on adjacent forests and national parks under a 1985 agreement and a 1987 memorandum of understanding. Under the 1994 North America Waterfowl Management Agreement, the United States and Mexico, with Canada, are cooperating on protecting migratory waterfowl habitats.


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