Deputy Secretary Gerónimo Gutiérrez suggested that the relationship between the Mexican and U.S. governments was picking up speed again after a period of relative distance in the U.S.-Mexico relationship. The temporary distancing had been the result of the September 11 attacks on the United States, which required U.S. policy to focus elsewhere, and subsequent disagreements between the two governments over the war in Iraq. Gutiérrez offered his remarks at a Director's Forum at the Wilson Center in representation of Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez, who cancelled his trip to Washington to address mounting tensions in the Mexico-Cuba relationship.

Gutiérrez noted that four structural elements were driving the relationship between the two countries and creating new opportunities for collaboration. First, the two governments have developed a series of coordination mechanisms to institutionalize cooperation on trade, drug trafficking, and other shared concerns, and to ensure safe and secure borders. Secondly, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has shown both countries that economic integration can take place with few problems for either country and that together they can develop common objectives and rules. Third, demographic changes are lessening the distance between the two countries, as the Mexican and Mexican-American community, now around 25.5 million people (including 9.5 million born in Mexico), becomes a "bridge of understanding." Finally, the end of the Cold War has allowed the United States to take leadership in the hemisphere and for Mexico to assume a more active foreign policy.

The structural changes have made it possible to deal with a series of mutual concerns between the two governments. Foremost among these concerns are migration, security, and trade. The two countries have complementary labor forces, both because of the difference in the average age of the population (27 in Mexico and 38 in the United States) and because of different skill sets in each country. He noted that the proposal of President Bush to create a guest-worker program and expedite visa applications was a step in the right direction and that the Mexican government was open to collaboration in finding ways to regularize migration flows between the two countries.

Gutiérrez also observed that the border between the two countries was the "most dynamic" in the world with $620 million of trade per day. The governments have achieved an unprecedented degree of cooperation that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. The 22-point agreement reached between the two governments to manage the border would help ensure an "appropriate balance between security and the efficient flow of goods and people" by harmonizing databases, upgrading technology, and implementing joint standards.

With regards to trade, there is much that can be done to "enhance the job-creating capacity of NAFTA," Gutiérrez argued. He suggested that the three NAFTA countries should move toward common standards and rule of origin requirements within the context of a broad North American Initiative, that is currently under debate among the three countries. He also observed that much could be done to strengthen cooperation in education within NAFTA, and a search for other strategies that would help all three countries to be more competitive within the global economy.

He noted that the two countries have come along way since the days that they considered each other, in Alan Riding's poetic phrase, "distant neighbors." Today, we are in the process of becoming "strategic partners." This presents an opportunity to "construct common visions between friends, neighbors, and partners on the common challenges we have."