President's US Visit Reinforces Mexico's Importance to Main Street America

President's US Visit Reinforces Mexico's Importance to Main Street America
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For the second time in less than a month, Presidents Peña Nieto and Obama are meeting to explore how to deepen collaboration in issues ranging from security to climate change and our commercial relationship. The timing of this meeting on Friday--between the two presidential conventions--could just be chalked up to a coincidental schedule alignment. But it also sends a powerful signal of how critical the relationship is just as parts of the nation are transfixed by rhetoric blaming Mexico for problems that it didn't create.

The US-Mexico partnership is unlike any other foreign relationship. It's not just about cooperation between two capitals. The ties stretch from state capitals to city halls and then right up Main Street. From Phoenix, where Mayor Greg Stanton has called for increased US-Mexico trade, to Dallas, where Mayor Mike Rawlings traveled to Mexico City last month with his Fort Worth counterpart on a mission to boost the $1.3 billion in trade between their cities and Mexico.

City leaders get it. They don't have time for political grandstanding or conjuring up fears of a steadfast ally. Mayors need to create jobs. And they need small businesses to do it. The nearly 28 million small businesses in our country are responsible for half of private-sector employment. Without small businesses, approximately 12 of the 19 million net new jobs created since NAFTA was signed into law would be at risk.

It is true that major corporations gain from the strong economic ties our countries share; but less recognized is the tremendous benefits reaped by American small businesses. With over a billion dollars crossing the US-Mexico border every day, it's important to remember that small mom-and-pop shops across America count on the continued flow of goods and commerce to keep their operations running. And at a time of manufacturing uncertainty, small firms have actually increased their share of manufacturing employment by 10 percent since NAFTA was passed.

These small businesses are the bread and butter of small towns and large cities. From Peoria to Houston, more than 38,000 small businesses - supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs -- across our country depend on their exports to Mexico. Over 20 percent of all US businesses exporting globally can be identified as small businesses. Without Mexico, over $52 billion in these small business' sales would be at risk. Put another way, the value of small business exports to Mexico is greater than the total gross domestic product of four states.

Clearly, for our nation's small businesses, the future of our south-bound exports is critical to their survival. For them and their employees, leaving the future of the commercial relationship to political grandstanding will only bring uncertainty and shuttered windows. We cannot let this happen. This is the moment to get the facts on why Mexico is a critical partner for the United States.

Jobs are precious in our rapidly changing economy. We are the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, a technological revolution changing how we work and live. The labor market will fundamentally alter as a result. This means we cannot squander the 6 million American jobs that depend on trade with Mexico.

Which is what makes the current isolationist rhetoric so concerning. Decrying the evils of trade and threatening to slap massive tariffs on Mexican imports, the conversation surrounding commercial policy has become steeped in controversy. A lack of understanding of the true impact of our economic relationship with Mexico is dangerous, allowing people to embrace protectionist policies without considering the serious ramifications for their neighbors.

Putting up barriers to one of the world's most dynamic commercial relationships will cause undo and unnecessary harm to the millions of Americans that depend on trade with Mexico. And it will pummel the tens of thousands of small businesses that depend on exports to Mexico for their survival.

So let's take this moment, with the two presidents again meeting, to turn the tide, to launch a new effort that broadens the North American commercial relationship so we can best compete globally. The unprecedented levels of economic integration we share with Mexico should be deepened, not threatened, in order to support American prosperity at all levels.

*Jason Marczak is Director of the Latin America Economic Growth Initiative at the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, which recently launched its #WhyMexico Initiative.

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