On the day President Donald Trump is scheduled to arrive in Phoenix next week, two dozen Arizona legislators will be leaving on a goodwill mission to Mexico.
The lawmakers are part of a large contingent – more than 70 – that will travel to Mexico City and the state of Guanajuato with a dual purpose: bolster trade between the two neighbors and learn more about the intricacies of their sometimes turbulent, often complicated but ultimately indispensable relationship.
The trip is occurring at a time when Trump’s administration has just begun renegotiating the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
Whenever Trump visits Arizona, among his biggest applause lines has been about building a wall with Mexico, which also happens to be the state’s biggest trading partner.
He will likely revisit the subject again on Tuesday.
And so the image of a president talking tough on free trade and Mexico, as Arizona’s political and business leaders hunker down to strengthen ties with their Mexican counterparts, forms yet another dichotomy in the desert, part of a familiar narrative about Arizona and America’s divergent impulses on immigration and trade.
Rep. Tony Rivero, R-Peoria, said the legislators will meet with their state counterparts, and with federal officials, including Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs. This trip builds on years of efforts to repair a relationship with Mexico, which hit a low mark following the state’s enactment of SB1070.
“What we’re looking for is opportunities to enhance our relationship,” Rivero said. And for legislators, he added, it’s also a chance to know more about the nuances of this international relationship.
“Yes, there are issues between our two countries. Yes, there are issues that we need to sit down at the table and discuss and address,” Rivero said. “But beyond that, we have a lot at stake. We have jobs. We have our economies… So, I see this as a trade mission but also as an educational opportunity for all of us.”
NAFTA negotiators from Canada, Mexico and the U.S. have begun sifting through some of the most difficult issues of upgrading the decades-old trade agreement.
Arizona’s policymakers are united in their efforts to minimize any harm to Arizona that might arise from renegotiating NAFTA.
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, for example, has sent suggestions to the Trump administration on expanding the agreement and making it better, rather than pulling back and moving toward protectionism. Meanwhile, Gov. Doug Ducey has cultivated closer ties with Sonora, Mexico Gov. Claudia Pavlovich.
Arizona has lots of reasons to worry as the three countries’ negotiators hammer a new trade deal: Roughly 30 percent of Arizona’s exports to foreign markets are sent to Mexico. Last year, Arizona exported more than $8 billion to its southern neighbor.