NEW PUBLICATION | Growing Together: How Trade with Mexico Impacts Employment in the United States

growing-together-employment-sectionBy Christopher Wilson

Read the essay

The United States and Mexico trade over a half-trillion dollars in goods and services each year, which amounts to more than a million dollars in bilateral commerce every minute.  With such a large volume of trade, it is not hard to believe that the number of jobs that depend on the bilateral relationship is similarly impressive. New research by the Mexico Institute shows precisely that: nearly five million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico.

The study shows that if trade between the United States and Mexico were halted, 4.9 million Americans from across the country would be out of work.

This essay analyzes the employment impact of bilateral trade on the U.S. economy. Read the essay here.

Key Findings

  • Nearly five million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico… Our model shows that if trade between the United States and Mexico were halted, 4.9 million Americans would be out of work.
  • Many times, it is the availability of cost-efficient inputs that allows U.S. companies to stay competitive enough to fend off competitors from outside the region and to grow exports in the face of fierce global competition. In this way, not just exports but also imports from Mexico help support jobs in U.S. industry.
  • The auto industry, which is probably the single most integrated regional industry, is a perfect example of the benefits of trade integration. Without the availability of nearby Mexican plants to do the final assembly of light vehicles, it is quite possible that the vast U.S. parts producing network for these vehicles would migrate to someplace outside of the continent.
  • Misperception and scapegoating has certainly played a role in creating the current negative political environment around trade…but so has the very real failure of U.S. policymakers to adequately address the challenges facing middle-class Americans.

This essay is part of our project Growing Together: Economic Ties between the United States and Mexico, which explores the bilateral relationship in detail to understand its nature and its impact on the United States. Throughout the fall of 2016, the Mexico Institute will release the findings of our research on our website and social media, using the hashtag #USMXEcon.

Read the essay


Drug-Smuggling Tunnel, Found in San Diego, Is Longest Yet

4/21/2016 The New York Times

For all the talk about a wall between the United States and Mexico, the problem with border security continues to be as much below ground as above. On Wednesday, officials in San Diego announced the discovery of another cross-border tunnel built by drug smugglers — the longest one found yet, at about half a mile.

The tunnel had rails, lighting, ventilation and even a large elevator leading to a closet in a modest house in Tijuana, United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy said. On the San Diego side, where the tunnel emerged in an industrial park in the Otay Mesa neighborhood, the authorities arrested and charged six people last week and confiscated more than a ton of cocaine and seven tons of marijuana that they said had been smuggled through the passage — the largest drug seizure associated with a tunnel….

[…]“A package of cocaine or heroin is much easier to move and hide than a person, and the profit it represents is far greater,” said Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a policy research group. “Working with terrorists would bring a huge amount heat on the cartels, and that’s bad for business.”

Read more…

From Obstacle to Asset: Re-envisioning the U.S.-Mexico Border

4/19/2016 Forbes

By Christopher Wilson and Erik Lee

forbesThe U.S.-Mexico border has yet again made an appearance in the political theater of the U.S. presidential campaign, starring in its traditional supporting role as a stock villain character. Though the political dialogue sounds like a re-reading of a script written in the 1990s or early 2000s when Mexican migration peaked, the discussion on the ground in most—but not all—U.S.-Mexico border communities long ago moved on to regional economic development. It is a largely positive discussion that could not be more different than what we are hearing at the national level.

Throughout the border region, local leaders from the public and private sectors are asking themselves how they can form cross-border partnerships to leverage assets in their sister cities and strengthen their local economies. They are looking to create a border that connects the United States to Mexico at least as much as it divides our two nations. A close look at the economic data, however, reveals divergent local economies and major border barriers. In our recent report, Competitive Border Communities: Mapping and Developing U.S.-Mexico Transborder Industries, we found that while advanced manufacturing industries such as  aerospace, automotive and medical devices often predominate in Mexican border communities, RV parks, retail and freight transportation are often the most concentrated (and often low-paying) industries in U.S. border communities.

Read more…

U.S. Presidential Election 2012 Analysis from the Mexico Institute: Security, Trade, Bilateral Relationship, Immigration

The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute is pleased to share with you the following analysis on the implications of the 2012 U.S. Presidential Elections for the U.S.-Mexico Relationship. Select pieces offer an overview of U.S.-Mexico Relations, insights into the future of an Obama-Peña Nieto relationship, reflections on the continued positive trends in U.S.-Mexico Trade, and an analysis of the Latino Electorate and immigration in the 2012 elections. Each piece is available separately below or you can download the full  PDF here.

U.S.-Mexico Relations Under President Obama’s Second Term– By Andrew D. Selee

Obama and Peña Nieto Under President Obama’s Second Term– By Duncan Wood

US-Mexico Trade Under President Obama’s Second Term– By Christopher E. Wilson

Immigration and the Latino Electorate Under President Obama’s Second Term– By Miguel R. Salazar

For a link to the PDF document visit

Join Us Monday July 16th for an Event on How to Build a 21st Century Border

To RSVP click here.

We cordially invite you to a discussion on developing efficient and secure border management strategies. As one of the architects of the 21st Century Border initiative, Alan Bersin, Assistant Secretary of International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer for the Department of Homeland Security, will deliver a keynote address. Our panel will then seek to identify the key challenges and opportunities regarding both the security and economic dimensions of border management.

For more info visit our event page here.

Can’t make it to the event? Watch the Live webcast here.

Questions at the border

The Economist, 6/12/2012

The border between America and Mexico is perhaps best known for the illegal trade and people passing though it. But the growth in legitimate things crossing over is the far bigger story.

The study, by Erik Lee and Christopher E. Wilson of the Border Research Partnership, produces two interesting charts. The problem is that they present a puzzling discrepency.

Read more…

AL DÍA:Traveling the Texas-Mexico Border

2/28/2012, Eric Olson and Chris Wilson of the Mexico Institute are currently driving the  Texas-Mexico border, beginning in El Paso/Ciudad Juarez, ending in Brownsville/Matamoros, and blogging along the way.

Day 7. Thoughts from Nuevo Laredo and Laredo: We’ve met with several people working in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo over the past two days, and it is clear that trade here is very different than trade in the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez area. While Nuevo Laredo does have approximately 45 Maquiladoras, the main industry in both Laredo’s is transportation.

The World Trade Bridge has more truck traffic than any other US port of entry, and the vast majority of it transports goods between the interiors of each country. On I-35 north of Laredo, the number of commercial trucks almost matches the number of passenger vehicles. The highway to Monterrey is similarly important on the Mexican side.

The amount of commerce passing through this area is incredible–and growing. While the World Trade Bridge seems well managed, the shear volume of traffic means that long lines of trucks can appear very quickly. Flexibility in staffing levels and inspection techniques, in conjunction with the use of technology, are important tools to address waves of traffic.

Perhaps most important, though, is the use of risk segmentation, or risk management. Based on the information received both in advance of a shipment and at the point of primary inspection, a CBP officer must quickly make a determination regarding whether or not to refer a truck to secondary inspection. In addition to physical signs of nervousness, red flags for the officer could include things like the type of commodity, the route the driver is traveling, the identity of the carrier, and the identity of the importer. In addition to finding information that could increase an officer’s suspicion regarding a load, there are also ways to increase confidence. Companies and carriers can enroll in programs like CTPAT and FAST, voluntarily offering extra information to authorities and taking measures to improve the security of their loads. In exchange for providing the information, they are ushered through the inspection process more quickly (unless the officer finds some sort of anomaly). Right now, about 25% of the trucks coming through Laredo have FAST–increasing this number would facilitate legitimate trade while allowing CBP to focus its efforts on finding illicit trade.

Despite intense fighting between the Zetas and the military in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, the local economy is still moving. The Maquiladora industry recovered jobs lost during the recent recession and are expected to add more jobs in 2012. Mexican importers, exporters, and those in logistics all continue to work, but a large portion now do so from the US side of the border. Research has shown that the provision of basic services in Nuevo Laredo, such as trash collection, declined significantly over the past two years, signalling a declining population.

The contrast between growing trade and industry on the one hand and still high levels of organized crime and violence on the other is sharp. It leads one to wonder just how dynamic the region could be without violence and a weak rule of law slowing it down.

–Chris Wilson