60th Arizona-Mexico Commission Meeting Comes After Months Of Trade Anxiety

By Matthew Casey, Murphy Woodhouse
Published: Thursday, June 20, 2019 - 5:05am
Updated: Thursday, June 20, 2019 - 10:44am

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Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and Sonoran Governor Claudia Pavlovich
Murphy Woodhouse/KJZZ
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Sonoran Gov. Claudia Pavlovich arrive at a session during the 2018 Arizona-Mexico Commission meeting in Hermosillo.

“Buenos dias! Gracias!” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said during the annual Arizona-Mexico Commission meeting last November in Hermosillo. “It is wonderful to be back in Sonora with my good friend and partner Gov. Pavlovich.”

“Welcome again, Gov. Ducey, my good friend!” responded Sonoran Gov. Claudia Pavlovich, who sat next to him during one of the sessions.

They touted the strength of the trade relationship between the states, with a special focus on agriculture.

“We are on the forefront of food safety and security in North America, with billions of pounds of produce crossing our border each year,” Ducey said.

But a lot has happened between that warm and friendly meeting and the lead-up to the 60th anniversary commission meeting, which starts in Phoenix next week.

President Donald Trump has threatened to shut down the border on several occasions, and declared a national emergency to get additional border wall funding. All of that sent shockwaves through the border region, where many businesses depend on cross-border commerce.

In late May, Trump threatened to impose steadily increasing tariffs on Mexican imports if the country didn’t do more to turn back U.S.-bound Central American migrants.

In response, Ducey tweeted that — while he opposes tariffs — he prioritizes “national security and a solution to our humanitarian crisis at the border above commerce.”

Pavlovich released a video stating her backing of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s efforts to avoid the tariffs.

“There are many national interests — investment, jobs — that are at stake,” she said. “They are interests of both countries.”

Neither governor agreed to do an interview for this story. On Monday, the governors sent joint letters to political leaders in both countries urging passage of the renegotiated NAFTA deal, known as the USMCA. In the letters, they also praised a recent binational deal that averted Trump’s threatened tariffs, which they said would be a “setback to our strong trade relationship.”

"There are many national interests — investment, jobs — that are at stake. They are interests of both countries."
— Claudia Pavlovich, governor of Sonora

Old Wounds 

Ducey’s initial response to the tariff threat came as a shock to some Sonoran businesspeople, according to Marco Lopez, who was appointed executive director of the Arizona-Mexico Commission by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2004.

“The last time they were hurt in this fashion, at least Sonorans, insulted by an Arizona governor, was Gov. Brewer,” said Lopez, now the CEO of Intermestic Partners, a Phoenix-based international business advisory firm. “This governor had done a great job of erasing and healing those wounds, to then just literally, peel the scab in a matter of seconds.”

But Gerardo Vazquez, who represents export manufacturers in Sonora, was not troubled by Ducey’s response.

“I think what Gov. Ducey says is right, that security is a priority,” he said. “And we see it that way too, because it impacts our economies when there is a lack of security.”

He also said that Mexico does need to do more to control the migrants crossing its territory. Ducey’s response may have added a little stress, but Vazquez saw it as a political statement, not as a signal of dramatic change.

Arizona Mexico Commission
Matthew Casey/KJZZ
Glenn Hamer

“There can be differences, but in no way do they destroy a relationship that is in everyone’s interest,” he said.

The View From Nogales

Just across the line in southern Arizona, the goal has always been to not let big-picture politics affect the relationship with Mexico, said Guillermo Valencia, chairman of the Greater Nogales and Santa Cruz County Port Authority, which is a sponsor of the upcoming Arizona-Mexico Commission summit.

“I think that the [governors’] relationship continues to be strong,” Valencia said.

The goodwill Ducey and Pavlovich have built is stronger than recent rhetoric, Valencia said. Polarizing politics could reach a point where they affect their bond. But Valencia doesn’t think it’s anywhere close to happening. He said more divisive national politics going forward could become a problem.

“I think that’s always something to think about. It concerns us. But I think that’s more of a footnote,” Valencia said.

Ducey and Pavlovich share two traits, said Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“They’re both very detail and results-oriented,” he said.

Hamer pointed to progress on issues like tourism, transportation, mining and water as evidence the Arizona-Mexico Commission is now at its highest point. There’s nothing wrong with governors having different views, he said.

“It’s easy to get lost in Twitterville, and Tweets and statements. I would focus on what actually gets done,” Hamer said.

The next chance for Ducey and Pavlovich to work together is at the Arizona-Mexico Commission’s 60th anniversary summit that starts June 26.

Matt Casey and Murphy Woodhouse joined The Show to talk about this meeting.

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