Mr. President, Rabbi Schneier, Archbishop Demetrios, Your Excellencies, Ladies, and Gentlemen:
I am deeply honored to join our friend Rabbi Schneier in presenting this year’s World Statesman Award to the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto.
I think we all would agree that the concept of order that has underpinned the modern era is in crisis. Tensions among the great powers are rising; fundamentalist armies are building a self-declared caliphate across Syria and Iraq; Libya is in civil war; parts of Africa are under siege from terrorists and disease. Every day we seem to awake to a new headline that reflects a global system that has slipped its moorings.
Disintegration of State
A core part of the problem is that the economic system has become global, while the political structure of the world remains based on the nation-state. Economic globalization, in its essence, ignores national frontiers. Foreign policy affirms them, even as it seeks to reconcile conflicting national aims or ideals of world order.
Lack of Communication
North America—and, to an extent, much of Latin America as well—is an exception to this dilemma. This reflects a unique degree of homogeneity in political and economic models as well as in values. We are all deeply committed to liberal democracy, market-oriented economies, free trade, open investment flows, and the rule of law. We have a more or less common understanding of what we are trying to accomplish for our peoples, and of the best ways to create wealth and welfare for our citizens.
This reflects not only shared history, but also the shared vision and imagination of leaders who have recognized that we have more to gain than to lose when we think, not only on national lines, but also on regional ones. That was the genius of NAFTA.
If anything, I think that this regional impulse is potentially even more valuable today than it was 20 years ago as we navigate increasingly dangerous global waters.
In that spirit I believe we need to actively renew our commitment to North America, as a concept and as a reality. We should continue to reduce trade barriers, look for opportunities to build North American scale infrastructure, make our borders smarter and enhance our common security through increased collaboration and closer coordination. In practice, much of that must be done by our countries’ private sectors, many of whose leaders are with us tonight. But governments need to take the lead by creating a framework that encourages regional, instead of purely national solutions.
I have had the honor of knowing and working with the President’s eight predecessors. During the half century that stretches from President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz to President Peña, I have watched Mexico grow in almost every dimension, and to take its place among the most important countries of the world.
During these years, Mexico has transformed itself into a dynamic, vibrant, modern democracy. The economy has grown from an also-ran into one of the dozen largest in the world—and almost certainly will continue to move up the rankings in coming years.
That evolution has been critical to the economic health and security not just of Mexico, but also of the United States. Having strong and growing countries on both our southern as well as our northern borders has created enormous opportunities for us, and liberated us from the burden of the regional tensions that plague other great powers.
Indeed, the reality of a dynamic, coherent North America—based on the platform of NAFTA, but extending well beyond the realm of free trade—gives us a unique advantage in the world as it is evolving in the early 21st century.
In that spirit, I would like to see the United States begin to think about trade, climate and other economic negotiations with a North American and not simply U.S. mind set. NAFTA not only exists, but the U.S. industrial, energy and transport sectors are increasingly North American in scale and scope. Our approach to trade negotiations like those between the U.S. and Europe and between the U.S. and parts of Asia—the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans Pacific Partnership, respectively, ought to reflect those realities.
Of course, that would be a significant break with how things have always been done, but thinking differently about our challenges is exactly what is needed today.
This brings us back to President Peña.
Although he has been in Los Pinos less than two years, his vision and political skills have opened up a new and even better future for Mexico.
The President came to office with the conviction that his country was in danger of exhausting the energy that had been unleashed by the economic reforms of the 90s, and by the political opening that coincided with the millennium. He recognized that the economy and politics needed more competition; that the role of government needed to shift from control to regulation; and, most courageously, that Mexico needed to find a new path to develop its vast oil and gas reserves, almost 8 decades after they were nationalized.
I have known many Mexican leaders who understood that the most important key to their country’s future was to open the energy sector to private capital, despite the guaranteed antipathy of the reactionaries. But only one was willing to do so.
I have always believed that a leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone. And, by that measure, President Peña has proven himself a leader.
Ladies and Gentlemen: I think we can learn much from our southern neighbor.
Mexico could have continued on the path of the past several decades. It could have tinkered with changes at the margins of its model, hoping that the growing contradictions would somehow resolve themselves.
Instead, President Peña chose the more difficult road. He recognized that only by transforming fundamentals, could he transform outcomes.
I think the same applies to our own national challenges, as well as to our common global challenges. Only by transforming how we fundamentally think about the problems can we move forward and produce the kind of dramatic new opportunities that President Peña Nieto has created for Mexico.
Mr. President, for all of what you have already accomplished as well as for all that lies ahead, I am delighted to join with Rabbi Schneier to present this World Statesman Award.