MEX­ICO’S TOP DIPLO­MAT HAS A MES­SAGE FOR AUSTIN

Of­fi­cial hopes Texas lead­ers will high­light pact’s ben­e­fits for state.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Sean Collins Walsh scwalsh@states­man.com

Mex­ico’s top diplo­mat for North Amer­i­can af­fairs said Thurs­day in Austin that he hopes Texas politi­cians will take a lead­ing role in high­light­ing the ben­e­fits of the U.S.-Mex­ico trade re­la­tion­ship as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pre­pares to rene­go­ti­ate the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment.

“Texas is the NAFTA state by def­i­ni­tion,” Carlos Sada Solana, the Mex­i­can for­eign af­fairs un­der­sec­re­tary for North Amer­ica, told the Amer­i­can-States­man. “When ne­go­ti­a­tions start … we want to start with a po­si­tion that is hap­pen­ing in re­al­ity, not with any mis­in­for­ma­tion.”

On the cam­paign trail, Trump called NAFTA “the worst trade deal in his­tory” and vowed to pull out or rene­go­ti­ate terms to make them more fa­vor­able to U.S. work­ers.

While many econ­o­mists agree with Trump’s as­sess­ment that NAFTA led to a loss in U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs, es­pe­cially in the Rust Belt, there is a wide con­sen­sus that Texas has ben­e­fited from the 25-year-old pact, which elim­i­nated tar­iffs among the U.S., Mex­ico and Canada.

In 2015, $381 bil­lion worth of trade be­tween the U.S. and Mex­ico passed through Texas, ac­count­ing for 65 per­cent of to­tal trade be­tween the two coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­sus Bureau. About 4.9 mil­lion Amer­i­can jobs de­pend on trade with Mex­ico, in­clud­ing 382,000 in Texas, ac­cord­ing to the Wil­son Cen­ter, a Wash­ing­ton, D.C., think tank

char­tered by Congress that stud­ies global af­fairs.

Sada Solana, an en­gi­neer from Oax­aca, is a long­time diplo­mat, hav­ing pre­vi­ously served as Mex­ico’s con­sul gen­eral in San An­to­nio, Los An­ge­les, Chicago and Toronto. He’s in Austin to visit the Casa Mex­ico at South by South­west, which is or­ga­nized by the Mex­i­can Con­sulate in Austin and aims to show­case the coun­try’s tech­nol­ogy sec­tor and en­trepreneur­ship.

While in Austin, Sada Solana said he also has met with Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San An­to­nio, and other state law­mak­ers. Gov. Greg Ab­bott, he said, might visit Mex­ico soon.

Straus on Thurs­day echoed Sada Solana’s sen­ti­ments about the cross-bor­der re­la­tion­ship.

“Our trad­ing re­la­tion­ship with Mex­ico has cre­ated con­sid­er­able eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity in Texas, and our work to­gether on is­sues like coun­tert­er­ror­ism has made our state safer,” Straus said in a state­ment. “It would be a mis­take to weaken co­op­er­a­tion be­tween our two coun­tries.”

As Trump made pol­icy goals deal­ing with Mex­ico — in­clud­ing amend­ing NAFTA, curb­ing il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and build­ing a bor­der wall — cen­tral to his cam­paign and ad­min­is­tra­tion, Mex­ico’s For­eign Af­fairs Sec­re­tariat, the equiv­a­lent of the U.S. State Depart­ment, has taken a more outspoken ap­proach to its north­ern neigh­bor.

Sada Solana’s ap­point­ment as am­bas­sador to the U.S. in April was in­ter­preted as a sign of that new strat­egy. (He was re­placed in that role in Jan­uary by Gerón­imo Gu­tiér­rez Fernán­dez.)

On Thurs­day, Sada Solana re­it­er­ated Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto’s pre­vi­ous state­ments about Trump’s plan to build a wall along the length of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der and have Mex­ico pay for it: “We do not like the wall, no mat­ter what.”

“It is a hos­tile ap­proach against a coun­try that is not only a friend and neigh­bor but is a strate­gic part­ner … but we un­der­stand that it is a de­ci­sion of the au­ton­o­mous gov­ern­ment of the United States and we can­not do any­thing about it,” he said. “Re­gard­ing who’s pay­ing for the wall, we are not pay­ing for the wall. That’s a fact.”

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

“When (NAFTA) ne­go­ti­a­tions start … we want to start with a po­si­tion that is hap­pen­ing in re­al­ity, not with any mis­in­for­ma­tion,” said Mex­i­can of­fi­cial Carlos Sada Solana.

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