Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Celebrating trade

Last Tuesday, the Rufino Tamayo Museum in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park was the venue for a reception hosted by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, who was in Mexico as head of an official trade delegation to the Federal District and the State of Jalisco.

As I approached the museum on a walkway through the forested park, I saw people milling around in its entryway. I wondered, was the procedure for getting inside causing the backup? After all, the hand of the U.S. Embassy was obvious in setting up the event and sending out the invitations.

Approximately a year ago Carol Hopkins and I attended an Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) meeting at the embassy. Security was extremely tight, hospitality was less than one would hope and for the more than 150 guests there were only two small restrooms “for citizens.”

I was thus delightfully surprised to find the Tamayo’s doors wide open and a generous reception going on both inside and outside the museum building. All that was required of guests was to pick up their name tags.
It was obvious the Minnesota trade delegation overrode the damper the U.S. Embassy seems to put on everything related to travel in Mexico.

A further break with embassy protocol was the importance given to education. The Minnesota trade delegation was made up of representatives of three sectors of Minnesota’s economy: manufacturing, agriculture and education. Every speaker, even chargé d’affaires William Duncan, referred to higher education on an equal footing with manufacturing and agriculture.

In his remarks to the assembled guests, Duncan stated, “In addition to trade there is a human factor and it’s about human capital. I want to congratulate Minnesota’s educational institutions, which today signed four partnership agreements with their Mexican counterparts to increase educational exchanges. Between 2013 and 2014 we’ve doubled the number of Mexican students who have studied in the United States — from 14,000 to 30,000; this has enormous implications for our future, our collective future.”

Only two years ago at the Tamayo’s “next door” museum, the Museum of Anthropology, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the program titled “One hundred thousand strong in the Americas,” in which 100,000 Latin American students were to be invited to study in U.S. colleges and universities; an equal number of U.S. students were to be encouraged to study in Latin America. “Because when we study together, and we learn together, we prosper together.”

Coincidentally, last week the Cemanahuac Educational Community in Cuernavaca received its annual approval from the University of Minnesota’s International Travel Risk Assessment and Advisory Committee to host, for its 36th year, the University’s study abroad program in Mexico.The University of Minnesota is exemplary in setting a goal of having 50 percent of its students experience study abroad during their undergraduate years.

Meredith McQuaid, Associate Vice President of the University of Minnesota and Dean of Global Programs, was present as a member of the trade delegation, as was Stephen Rosenstone, Chancellor of Minnesota’s College and University System.

Michael Langley, CEO of the trade delegation sponsoring organization, Greater MSP (trademark name for Minneapolis Saint Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership) pointed out that Governor Dayton’s first job after graduation from Yale was teaching in an underprivileged school in New York City. “His experience when fresh out of college set the pace for his life in public service. Ever since he has been a champion for economic prosperity for all.”

U.S. Congressman Tom Emmer accompanied the trade delegation. Even though it was Mark Dayton’s reception, the governor was generously non-partisan — offering to share the question period with Congressman Emmer. The governor drew a good laugh with “I’ll take the easy questions and Congressman Emmer will take questions on U.S.-Mexican trade relations and on Donald Trump.”

Chargé d’affaires William Duncan put trade in perspective by saying that breaking it down to a per-day figure, there is $1.6 billion dollars of trade going on daily between the United States and Mexico.

Much of that trade is by truck, U.S. Department of Transportation figures say 15,000 trucks per day cross the Mexico-U.S. border. Congressman Emmer shared another statistic with me, which the trade delegation had heard earlier in the day, from José Antonio Meade, Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Relations. All the cocaine that goes north annually from Mexico to fulfil the demand for U.S. cocaine consumption would fit in 13 trucks. Secretary Meade added, “Unfortunately that trade gets more attention than the 5.4 million legal truck crossings per year.”

In his public presentation, chargé d’affaires Duncan remarked that for 30 years he has been listening
to Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion (APHC) — a very popular weekly National Public Radio variety show. Garrison closes each week’s tale from Lake Woebegone, Minnesota with, “Where the women are strong, the men good looking and the children above average.” From 35 years of having Minnesota students at Cemanahuac, I’d say Garrison has it right.

One of Garrison’s APHC sponsors is the imaginary Fear Mongers Shoppe, “catering to all your phobia needs.” Weekly ads poke fun at fearmongering. Perhaps Garrison’s humor has made Minnesotans less susceptible to it. The U.S. Embassy could take a lesson from him.

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