Donald Trump may be soliciting bids to build a wall along the border, but the governors of Arizona and Sonora are doing what they can to ensure there are doors and windows, at least figuratively speaking, to maintain the flow of goods, services and people.
At the meeting Friday of the Arizona-Mexico Commission in Prescott Valley, Doug Ducey praised the long relationship between the two border states. At the same time, he acknowledged the new administration in Washington which not only wants to build a wall but is also actively pushing to deport Mexican nationals and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement that has helped spur this state’s economy.
But Ducey told Capitol Media Services that he and counterpart Claudia Pavlovich just need to keep doing what they have been, regardless of what’s happening in Washington.
“We invested in this relationship over the two years previous to a new election,” he said.
“So I think in many ways we can be a model and an example for a relationship that can work, that can help benefit Arizona’s and America’s economy,” Ducey continued. “And this has been a net positive for the job growth and economic growth of Arizona and we intend to continue it.”
Claudia Pavlovich, for her part, told Capitol Media Services she’s not going to let the actions and rhetoric coming out of the new president affect what she and Ducey are trying to do here.
“We have maintained this relationship, even in that face,” she said. “We have to do our job and build bridges between us.”
That, Pavlovich said, won’t change no matter what else is going on.
“We’re going to create jobs for both states,” she said.
There’s a lot at stake.
The Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona pegs Arizona’s exports to Mexico last year at $8.32 billion. Imports came in at $7.45 billion.
And Pavlovich, for her part, professed not to be overly concerned that all that is going to fall apart, no matter who is in the White House.
“Everything, I think, is going to be all right,” she said.
All that, of course, presumes that the free trade agreement, even if altered, is maintained.
Trump has made no secret of his feelings.
“NAFTA has been a catastrophe for our country,” he said earlier this year at the White House. “It’s been a catastrophe for our workers and our jobs and our companies that our leaving our country.”
But Trump has backed away from earlier threats to walk away from it entirely, instead more recently suggesting there needs to be major changes, one he quipped “will put an extra F in the term NAFTA,” that additional letter representing the word “fair.”
Ducey wants a voice in what emerges.
“As a border governor, we’ll ask for a seat at the table,” he said.
“This has been an important relationship for us,” Ducey continued. “So if we’re going to renegotiate this agreement and find ways to improve it, I’d like to be a part of it.”
Pavlovich said she wants the focus of NAFTA talks to be “not so much in ideologies and policies but the well-being of our people.
“And the well-being of our people is that we continue with a treaty with certain things that we have to renegotiate that didn’t exist when we signed,” she said.
Those issues include digital trade as well as concerns about intellectual property rights and how the agreement works with state-owned enterprises. But Pavlovich said she agrees with Ducey that a fix is far better for the region than scrapping the agreement entirely.
“You can’t say goodbye to something that has given benefits for both countries, and also to Canada,” she said.
Ducey said a prime example of how cross-border trade can benefit both countries was the announcement last year that Lucid Motors plans to build a $700 million plant in Casa Grande to manufacture luxury electric vehicles.
“They were considering over 60 different markets in 13 different states,” the governor said. What ultimately put the plant in Arizona, he said, was both the proximity to — and working relationship — with Mexico and Sonora where some of the parts will be built and shipped to Arizona.
Still, Ducey acknowledged that NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, needs updating.
“Of course there is opportunity to improve it,” he said.
So what does he hope for?
“To me, proof and evidence of an improved free-trade agreement would mean that we would have even more employment and even more opportunity in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said.