PHOENIX -- Some 250 business leaders and policy makers from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are convening in Tempe, Ariz. this week to discuss how to enhance trade, education and jobs in both countries.
The roster of guests includes senior level officials, CEOs, and regional politicians, including New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. The conference is put on by Arizona State University's North American Center for Transborder Studies and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
As the conference kicked off Monday, a common theme emerged: Even though American and Mexican economies are intertwined, and trade between the two nations has reached record levels, the two countries are still not realizing the full economic potential of the common border.
"We operate as if we are not unified, and it is a mistake," said ASU President Michael Crow in his opening keynote address.
Crow said ignorance is hindering the binational relationship, and innovative solutions are needed to address current failings.
"Looking just at labor, we must have the most broken relationship relative to the free flow of labor that actually could exist anywhere between two G20 countries," Crow said.
Michael Camuñez, a senior-level official at the U.S. Commerce Department, said that since the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994, trade between the two countries has more than quintupled. Annually, trade in goods and services between the two countries has reached half a trillion dollars, he said.
But that too has presented challenges.
"Many ports of entry were built decades ago and were not updated or maintained to keep up with the dramatic growth in trade that has resulted from NAFTA's success," Camuñez said.
Analysts say Mexico's economy is growing faster than that of the United States, which could create more opportunities for American companies to export goods there.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said as U.S. companies relocate their manufacturing operations from Asia to Mexico, Arizona cities could gain corporate headquarters and other jobs.
"The more we can take advantage of our physical proximity to Mexico, the more we can take advantage of our diverse population -- including our largely bilingual Latino population -- the better trade will be with Mexico and the more jobs it will create here," Stanton said.