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Friday, October 11, 2013

NASCO : North American Strategy for Competitiveness

The North American Strategy for Competitiveness (NASCO) is a fascinating organization. The economic trading partnership represents nearly a quarter of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We are blessed with strong connections in terms of land, people, culture, and economies. This was my first time as the newly minted President and CEO of Port Alberta attending the NASCO 2013 conference in the Great State of Texas. I pushed a number of things off my plate to meet with industry and government leaders from across Canada, the United States, and Mexico in San Antonio.

My thoughts quickly drifted back to a time when I lived only 25 minutes from the Mexican border in Arizona when my home was the Sonoran desert. We all shared the same desert, the same weather, the same food, and the same culture. There was an international border, but it wasn't difficult for us as we could drive to "la frontera", grab a parking spot, and just walk across the line. For us, it was like walking across the street. Not much changed except for the number and type of stores set up at the border for the tourists. 

I knew there would be plenty of Mexicans at the conference and looked forward to meeting them and speaking Spanish.  One of the first orders of business was to register for the conference.  While looking for the registration desk, I was greeted by very some nice people from Mexico speaking Spanish.  We immediately engaged in conversation and a lady from the State of Michigan joined the group. I grew up near the Windsor/Detroit border, so we had a lot to talk about.  Having spend most of my life 15 minutes from the Canadian/US border or the Mexican/US border, I was in my element.

As we continued to chat, I was graciously escorted into a room with a couple dozen people. We all exchanged business cards and I noticed these people represented their respective governments at a pretty high level. After a quick reference to the event schedule on my iPhone, I realized the seat I occupied was for "invited only" government leaders for the NAFTA countries!  Inadvertently, I wound up at the meeting of ministers.

I thought to myself, “maybe this is meant to be”, after all, I have the heart of a Latino and the citizenship of Canada and the United States.  My participation and opinions were welcome in the discussion on how the three NAFTA countries might best move forward on a variety of levels. It was a thrill to observe and collaborate with such brilliant international thought leaders instrumental to the fate of the NAFTA region.

Canada, the United States, and Mexico account for nearly a quarter of the global GDP.  That fact, in and of itself, is staggering.  The United States imports nearly twice as much oil from Canada than Saudi Arabia.  Canada has invested over $230 billion in NAFTA partners and our trading relationship has blossomed to over a trillion dollars.  The combined GDP of Canada, the United States, and Mexico was about $19.2 trillion last year.  The Government of Canada has been keenly aware of a shifting multi-polar world and what that means for Canadian trading and competitiveness.  

Mexican reforms seem to be gathering momentum as indicated by considerable capital starting to pivot from Latin American markets into Mexico.  Initial Public Offerings (IPO's) and add-ons seem to be shifting capital from Brazil towards Mexico. Over 10 billion in IPO's have been racked up this year to date. While the Asian IPO's have retracted, North American IPO proceeds have gained.  Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is considering changes to the Constitution of Mexico, in particular, articles 25, 27, and 28 of the Constitution. 

President Enrique Peña Nieto
The potential reforms in Mexico would radically change the Mexican economy and shift foreign investment back into high gear.  It is thought that Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the state run oil company, could ramp up exploration in dwindling oil fields.  But the alteration of the Mexican Constitution requires a 2/3 vote, and it is unlikely to pass unless President Neito's PRI party can secure the support of the conservative PAN party which is not entirely opposed to the idea, but in order to secure their support, they are asking to have electoral reform which would allow a run off between first and second place candidates in Presidential elections according to Jose Maria Martinez, deputy leader of the PAN in the Senate.  

Over 11,000 trucks move across the border crossing between Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas every day.  If you're going to cross the US/Mexican/Canadian border, here's a handy link for real-time data that shows the best time to cross for passenger and commercial.  Between Canada and the United Stated, over 1.4 million worth of goods and services cross the border from the United States every minute of every day. That's a $710 billion dollar market between the U.S. and Canada alone.  It's no wonder the Government of Canada is going to build a new bridge across the Detroit river because it is Canada's largest trade corridor with over 25% of U.S. and Canadian trade.

New Bridge from Windsor to Detroit - designed by Ted Zoli
Canada will pick up the tab for the construction of the bridge at several billion dollars (estimated between 3 and 4 billion).  That bridge represents what every person from the Detroit / Windsor corridor knows... the trading relationship sends more value in cargo across the Detroit river every day than we trade with many countries all year long.  In short, it's the single largest trading corridor in North America and it's growing.

The bridge in Laredo is also tremendously important too.  The Laredo bridge is called the World Trade International Bridge, and it carries about 10,000 (or more) trucks a day delivering cargo between the United States and Mexico. This Laredo bridge spans the Rio Grande. You can check out the bridge cams at this link.

World Trade International Bridge - Laredo

When people start talking about NAFTA, I have a whole new perspective of just how important it is for our three countries.  NAFTA matters and the key relationships we have with Mexico, Canada, and the United States are incredibly important to our economies and to our people.  Suffice it to say, I've always believed in free trade and I've always felt the relationship between Mexico, Canada, and the United States is enormously important.  Between the three countries, we can claim continental energy independence.  There are many reasons why the trading relationships of NAFTA are critical to all three countries, but the sheer size and velocity of goods and services are simply unmatched anywhere else.

Mexico, the United States, and Canada represent about a quarter of the World's GDP, over 14 million jobs depend on this relationship, and it is a 19 trillion dollar market, larger than the European Union and twice the size of China.  The message I gave the meeting of the leaders was very simple. The problems for the supply chain and logistics between Mexico, the United States, and Canada began on one particular date, September 11, 2001 a.k.a. 9/11.  That's when the borders started to become difficult to negotiate.  Only I was able to say that in no uncertain terms. Everybody else had to be restrained in their choice of words because they were high level political representatives... I was the guy representing industry and was not bound to the same requirement to dance around the heart of the issue.  Naturally, I put it right out there on the table and I think very much to the relief of the government officials present.

We must leverage our advantages as technological leaders and thought leaders to make make our borders easier to cross for our trade, and we can do it by leveraging technology for more intelligent border systems, cooperating more closely on these matters, and focusing on our ability to leverage these things while approving energy infrastructure, like Keystone, to create a strong energy security policy that benefits all three nations.  These recommendations, in a slightly different form, were put forth on my birthday, October 3rd, from the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and addressed to President Obama, President Nieto, and Prime Minister Harper.  

I believe President Nieto is leading a visionary change that will bring increased prosperity to Mexico.  The Eagle Ford shale play extends into Mexico and there is so much more.  But PEMEX will require the kind of expertise Canadian and U.S. companies can bring to the table in order to unleash the enormous potential of Mexican natural resources.  The United States must also consider the importance of completing the Keystone project, which in and of itself does not create a complete solution to the breadth of North American energy security that all of us want, but it will certainly help.  And to be clear, the majority of U.S. citizens want Keystone to move forward.

We recognize that business leaders and the United States Congress join the majority of the people in their desire to see Keystone move forward.  North American energy independence allows us to apply our own technologies and innovation in our marketplace instead of pushing global energy production into the hands of nations where environmental controls are nowhere near our environmental control standards.  Democratic stability and decades of harmonious relations across the NAFTA countries support continued policy development that will benefit North America.

President Nieto and President Obama

President Nieto and Prime Minister Harper
If we apply our technologies and make a genuine attempt to work more closely to harmonize our security and enhance the flow of goods and services across the North American supply chain, we will advance our economies and move forward together.

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