Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton sent a clear message to Mexican leaders this past weekend, emphasizing that the election of Donald Trump will not change Phoenix's commitment to strengthen ties with Mexico.
"We're not going to change our commitment to building a closer relationship with the people of Mexico," Stanton said in an interview with New Times. "Mexico has a friend not only in myself, but mayors across the country. That doesn't change because of the election of one person."
Stanton added that any attempt by the Trump administration to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would be opposed by the City of Phoenix, as would any attempts to "turn our local police department into mass deportation forces" or to "make it harder to do business with Mexico."
Stanton was in Mexico City over the weekend for the sixth biennial C40 Mayors Summit, which brought together mayors from around the world to share ideas about how to fight climate change.
During his visit, Stanton said, he told Mexican leaders that Trump's inflammatory comments about Mexican immigrants during the presidential campaign were "unfortunate." He also did his best to reassure them that he values Phoenix's relations with Mexico.
"We're blessed to have Mexico as our neighbor," Stanton said. "This is a country that is already the 14th-largest economy on the planet, and if growth projections continue, it's going to be the fifth- or sixth-largest economy on planet Earth, and it has a growing middle class. That's an incredible economic opportunity for business in Phoenix and trade."
Stanton said that when he took office in 2012, many in Mexico had a negative perception of Arizona because of the state's passage of SB 1070. "We lost a lot of business as a result of the perception that Arizona didn't support a close relationship with Mexico," he said.
He resolved to make it a priority to strengthen ties between Phoenix and Mexico. Over the past four years, Stanton has made more than a dozen trips to Mexico, at times leading delegations of the state's business and community leaders.
Last year, though Arizona already had two trade offices in Mexico, Phoenix became the second U.S. city to open its own trade office in Mexico City. The office is meant to make it easier for Phoenix businesses to export to Mexico and to encourage Mexican companies to invest in Phoenix. Mexico opened a trade office in Phoenix last year.
Trade between the Phoenix metropolitan area and Mexico has increased substantially under Stanton's leadership, with exports to Mexico increasing from $2 billion in 2012 to $4.1 billion in 2015, making Mexico the largest trading partner for the Phoenix metropolitan area.
Mexico is also Arizona's largest trading partner. Last year, exports to Mexico from Arizona totaled $9.2 billion, and more than 90,000 Arizona jobs depended on trade with Mexico.
Asked if he worries that Trump's promise to build a wall along the southern border could undermine his efforts to improve relations with Mexico, Stanton said, "Yeah, it's a problem. We're trying to build bridges — economic bridges, personal bridges.
"The building of a wall at a time when we're trying to increase our business relationships with Mexico is not very smart policy, in my opinion," he added.
Trump's border-wall promise has not gone over well with Mexico. Its leaders have said multiple times that Mexico will not pay for the border wall, despite Trump's claims to the contrary.
The president-elect has also promised to renegotiate NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying it is to blame for manufacturing jobs leaving the U.S. and going to Mexico, where costs are cheaper. In a recent interview with the Arizona Republic, Carlos Manuel Sada Solana, Mexico's new ambassador to the United States, noted that under NAFTA, trade between the U.S. and Mexico has grown substantially.
Stanton echoed that sentiment, saying both countries benefit from trade. As an example, he pointed to Lucid Motors' announcement last week that it planned to build a $700 million plant in Casa Grande to manufacture electric cars. Parts for the vehicles will be manufactured in Sonora, Mexico.
"Overall, it's a great thing that Mexico is our neighbor," Stanton told New Times. "I think that Donald Trump ran on a campaign that tried to give this perception that Mexico is somehow our adversary, somehow our enemy, that our proximity to Mexico is a bad thing for the United States of America. I couldn't disagree more."