In an exclusive interview with Chamber Business News, Ruben Alvarez, managing partner at the Molera Alvarez government affairs firm and former executive director of the Arizona-Mexico Commission, describes the social and economic relationships between Arizona and Mexico, the importance of cross-border collaboration and the role of the Arizona-Mexico Commission.
Question: You formerly served as the executive director of the Arizona-Mexico Commission. When did you first get involved with the Commission, and in what capacity?
Answer: I got started with the Arizona-Mexico Commission in the early ‘90s, and I actually started as an intern. Once I graduated from college at Arizona State University, I was hired on as a project specialist, and over the years I was able to work my way to become the director of the Arizona-Mexico Commission and eventually became Gov. [Jane Dee] Hull’s policy advisor for Mexico.
Q: Any notable memories from the time you were executive director?
A: During the ‘90s… in 1993 was the ratification of NAFTA. So, during that time, there was a lot of activity and interest in the relationship between the United States and Mexico, and back then, in 1992, Gov. [Fife] Symington from Arizona and Gov. [Manlio Fabio] Beltrones [Rivera] from Sonora actually established offices in each other’s capital, which was an impetus for a lot of the economic development activities that took place in the early ‘90s.
Q: How has working with the Arizona-Mexico Commission, its partner organizations and different governors’ administrations shaped your view of the cross-border relationship?
A: I was actually able to witness first-hand all of the opportunities that were created because of the relationships that were established over the years between Arizona and Sonora — a lot of issues, challenges that were overcome because there was a close relationship, and there were lines of communication where each administration was able to pick up the phone and talk to one another, to be able to resolve issues and also to be able to take advantage of opportunities as they were created.
Q: Why do you feel the continued relationship and collaboration between Arizona and Mexico is important for Arizonans, even if they are not involved with trade?
A: The Arizona-Mexico Commission is a very unique organization. There have been other border states and, quite frankly, other countries that have tried to replicate the efforts of the Arizona-Mexico Commission, and they haven’t been as successful. And the reason they haven’t been as successful is because the people, the membership that are involved with the Arizona-Mexico Commission have continually worked to develop and to establish processes that have helped both states accomplish everything they’ve been able to do.
Q: The Arizona-Mexico Commission has obviously grown and changed over the years and under different governors. What’s new, and what do you think of the Commission’s latest projects?
A: I think that every governor who was chaired the Arizona-Mexico Commission has been able to imprint their own focus and their own priorities on the work of the Arizona-Mexico Commission, but through the years — and through the decades, quite frankly — the one thing that has remained is the energy and the importance that individuals, both in the private and public sector, have placed on the relationship.
When you look back, originally the organization was created to form friendships and to build trust between the two states, and through the years each governor who has come along has been able to build upon the foundation that was created, whether it’s on economic development, whether it’s health, education, law enforcement and even sports. There have been a lot of great projects, collaboration that has been established, and that has helped both states.
Q: For people who may not know about it, can you tell me about the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and how that could be significant for Arizona?
A: The reason the USMCA is so important to Arizona is because Mexico is Arizona’s largest trading partner. There are over 228,000 jobs that are associated with trade with Mexico, and that impacts our economic development here in this state.
As I mentioned before, in 1993, when NAFTA was ratified, I had the pleasure and the honor of getting started with the Arizona-Mexico Commission, so I witnessed first-hand all the benefits and the opportunities that were created because that agreement was established.
The USMCA, now, is providing sort of an update of NAFTA, providing the states along the border, and the three countries, with new opportunities: enhanced [methods to address] labor issues, taking advantage of the new technologies that have been created since ’93 until now. And all of it, basically, establishes a set of principles that help each country with transparency and with their abilities to move forward with this trade agreement.
Q: Is there anything Arizonans should definitely know about the relationship between Arizona and Mexico?
A: I think that relationship between Arizona and Mexico is very, very important, because we share cultural ties; we share historical bonds; we share a border. The reality is environmental issues, health issues and other issues don’t necessarily respect boundaries, so we have to work in collaboration with one another, because we are border states, and by working together we can help resolve issues that impact both of our communities.