MEXICO CITY – Robust academic exchanges between the United States and Mexico are crucial to strengthening bilateral ties and counteracting US President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, a Mexican former deputy foreign relations secretary said.
“The big challenge we have with Trump is to invigorate these exchanges, invigorate joint endeavors in science and technology,” Sergio Alcocer told EFE in an interview after being named doctor honoris causa this week by the University of Arizona in recognition of his success in developing bi-national academic and research partnerships.
Alcocer said that between 2012-2015 roughly 100,000 Mexican students studied abroad for various periods of time in the US, a number far higher than the 14,000 such academic stays prior to his 2013-2015 tenure as the Foreign Secretariat’s deputy secretary for North America.
Thousands of US foreign exchange students, meanwhile, arrived in Mexico during that same period, making the Aztec nation one of the five most popular Latin American destinations for Americans studying abroad, according to Alcocer, who also formerly served as general secretary of the prestigious National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
“Those visiting both sides, the Mexicans there and the Americans here, become goodwill and good-faith ambassadors for what should be the building of a relationship between two neighbors,” Alcocer said.
Academic exchanges also will show that the relationship between Mexico and the US “is stronger than mere trade,” he added.
Trump has demanded from Mexico and Canada a renegotiation of the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, a deal he has blamed for a steep decline in American manufacturing jobs.
On Thursday, Trump formally notified the US Congress of his intention to renegotiate the NAFTA agreement, opening a 90-day consultation period involving his administration, lawmakers and industry groups.
Talks among the NAFTA partners can begin after that period is over, possibly as soon as mid-August.
“The one facing more political pressure to negotiate is President Trump,” Alcocer said. “I don’t see that Mexico has any urgency to pressure” for renegotiation talks.
However, he said an overhaul of NAFTA was essential and praised the Mexican government’s announcement Thursday that it was ready for negotiations with the US, the destination for 80 percent of Mexico’s exports.