Southern Arizona should shift its international trade efforts to products made with Mexico, rather than trying to sell to or import from Mexico, A Latin American trade specialist says.
The shift is critical to the long-term economic viability of Arizona in a border economy, said Shannon O’Neil, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Mexico is already Arizona’s No. 1 foreign export destination, said O’Neil, who focuses on Latin America's development and trade.
“Almost a third of your exports go to Mexico already. That’s $9 billion and it supports over 100,000 jobs here in Arizona, so you already have this base, but it’s one that Arizona can and should build upon,” she said.
Arizona used to dominate produce imports, O’Neil said, but the Nogales port has dropped from formerly importing half of the nation’s produce to now bringing in one third of it.
“That’s because other ports have really taken that market share. They’ve really stepped up and built facilities to enable them, too, to be attractive to these industries,” she said.
The way Southern Arizona can improve is to stop its focus on imports and exports with Mexico, and instead share in the production of products.
Auto parts and aerospace equipment often crosses the border many times before a completed item is ready for sale, and that creates an opportunity for partnership between the countries, O’Neil said.
Her point is something the region’s economic development organization, Sun Corridor Inc., is trying to heed, said Joe Snell, the CEO of the organization.
Sun Corridor, formerly known as Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, is expanding its influence from the Tucson area to all of Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico, Snell said in explaining the name change.
“We previously served the Tucson region, we now serve everything south of Maricopa County,” he said.
It’s an effort to give more weight and bring more possibility to the organization’s work to foster economic development and business partnerships.
Snell said the region has consistently had a great relationship with Mexico, but that it has been a cultural relationship.
“We need to integrate our market with their market to be one market, and not be caught up in an international boundary,” he said.
This year Sun Corridor led a group of 50 CEOs to Washington, D.C. to advocate for regional transportation planning and funding, military installation retention and better border crossings to promote trade.
“We’re also going to do the same trip, in the spring, to Mexico City,” he said. “It’s important to influence Washington, but it’s also important to influence Mexico City.”
Sun Corridor, Inc., is opening an office in Mexico City and an Hermosillo sales office with Visit Tucson.