U.S. should recognize Mexico's economic value

San Antonio Express-News

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San Antonio, May 12, 2013 | comments
I met Enrique Peña Nieto in May 2011, during his introduction visit to Washington, D.C. Then governor of the state of Mexico, Peña Nieto was a rising star in Mexican politics and clearly had a bright future ahead of him.

The following two years, after multiple trips between Mexico and Washington, including stops to places such as Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, and an invitation to his presidential campaign debate, I was able to witness Peña Nieto's energy, results-driven thinking and commitment to doing the right thing for his country.

I was impressed.

On his second day after taking office, President Peña Nieto signed an agreement with Mexico's three largest political parties to pursue reform in Mexico's political, social and economic systems.

The Pacto por México, or Mexican Compact, signed Dec. 2, laid out an ambitious agenda to promote economic growth, foster socioeconomic mobility, and encourage Mexico's global competitiveness. The compact united Mexico's liberal, conservative and centrist factions behind an agenda to confront the problems that have plagued the country for decades.

Mexico's economic growth has been stymied by the iron grip of a few monopolies. Less than six months into his term, Peña Nieto has taken aim at the anti-competitive forces that have stifled growth, costing the Mexican economy about 1.8 percent of GDP in service overcharge fees while placing the burden of more than 40 percent of these costs on Mexican families.

In February, Peña Nieto passed legislation that eliminated Mexico's long-held practice of buying and selling teaching jobs, as well as providing lifelong security, benefits and pensions for teachers. The government has retaken control of hiring and firing in the hope of reforming the historically dysfunctional educational system.

Recently, Mexico's upper legislative chamber passed a bill confronting the telecom industry. The new law will force monopolistic companies to sell off the part of their business that exceeds 50 percent of market share and comply with a new oversight agency, which will possess the power to levy fines and break apart companies with more than 50 percent market share.

Soon, oil and gas reform will take place to develop the full potential of Mexico's energy reserves. Banking reform is in the pipeline as well, aimed at boosting lending and improving financial practices.

As President Barack Obama has now paid an official visit to Peña Nieto, it is time for the United States to recognize that changes are taking place in Mexico.

We are deeply tied to our southern neighbor by more than just concerns over the security of our border. The Mexican economy is the third-largest export market for American goods. The rise of a strong trading partner and the reforms underway only stand to benefit the U.S. economy and its potential for growth.

In 2012, the United States sold close to $500 billion in goods and services across the border. Every day in my hometown of Laredo, more than 12,000 commercial trucks cross the international bridges.

Texas is a good example. Peña Nieto's reform can boost cross-border trade and economic activity along the Texas-Mexico border while generating more jobs for American workers.

And any uptick in economic activity between these two economic partners will help Mexican citizens find employment on their side of the border as opposed to entering or re-entering the United States illegally.

The reforms Peña Nieto has so boldly introduced should encourage Americans to view Mexico as an economic partner and friend.

I see the potential for a vibrant and flourishing relationship that will increase trade, add jobs to our economy, and keep our border areas safe.

The reform underway in Peña Nieto's Mexico is possibly the catalyst that will lift U.S.-Mexico relations to a new level.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, represents Texas' 28th Congressional District.

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