Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa believes that the U.S.-Mexico relationship must embrace new areas of shared focus, including cultural exchanges, university exchanges, and foreign direct investment. “We don’t need walls, we need bridges,” said Villaraigosa, chair of the 2012 Democratic National Convention (DNC). Not only does he see a need to “change the tone of the conversation,” but he emphasized the importance of “chang[ing] the substance” of the conversation. Villaraigosa’s vision for the relationship underscored the theme of enhancing North American cooperation championed at “The Future of U.S.-Mexico Relations,” a breakfast cosponsored by The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands and the Wilson Center held September 4, 2012, during the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Bill Richardson, former Governor of New Mexico, Ambassador to the United Nations, and Secretary of Energy, and Villaraigosa cohosted the discussion, which included Ambassador of Mexico to the United States Arturo Sarukhan and was moderated by Eric Olson, associate director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center. Among the attendees were Congressmen Charles Gonzalez (D-TX) and Sam Farr (D-CA) and Edward Avalos, Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the United States Department of Agriculture.
Geoffrey Cowan, president of The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands, opened the conversation by describing the retreat on U.S.-Mexico relations convened at Sunnylands in March 2012, which led to a written and video report, A Stronger Future: Policy Recommendations for U.S.-Mexico Relations, the subject of the discussion.
The participants offered policy suggestions for the U.S.-Mexico relationship. Richardson noted, “when we talk about Mexico, it’s usually about three issues: violence, immigration, and issues that divide us, like drugs.” He urged that the relationship “not be based [only] on those three areas, that we should expand on those issues,” citing strategies and solutions for renewable energy sources, joint foreign policy, economic trade and competitiveness, educational connectedness, and legal immigration.
Sarukhan touted the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement that would further liberalize trade among Asia-Pacific countries, calling it “the next logical strategic step in our bilateral relationship” and an opportunity “to upgrade NAFTA to a 2.0 free trade agreement.” He noted, “one of the recommendations [of A Stronger Future] was that the United States accept Mexico into the TPP negotiations. This report is so good that that has already happened.” Sarukhan also advanced what he calls his pet project: to have Mexico and the United States cohost the 2026 World Cup, which would “send a message to the rest of the world about the partnership between Mexico and the United States.”
The panelists also reflected on the role played by Sunnylands, a place of serenity and privacy where high-level national and world leaders can come together to address the most pressing issues of the day. Villaraigosa called Sunnylands a place where the retreat participants were able to “reimagine” the U.S.-Mexico relationship and “focus on solutions and not just sound bites.”
Richardson remarked on Sunnylands’ beautiful setting and said that the March 2012 retreat held there was special also because “the substance and expertise of the […] leaders that were there, the knowledge of Mexico and the United States in that room was fantastic.” He added: “The goal, hopefully, is that the first meeting of the two [incoming American and Mexican] presidents will be at Sunnylands.”