MEXICO CITY Presumptive Republican candidate Gov. Mitt Romney is reportedly planning to visit Great Britain, Germany, Poland and Israel in an effort to boost his foreign policy credentials. Big mistake he should start his foreign tour here, in Mexico.
Its not just that visiting Mexico would send a signal that he has not given up on Hispanic voters, who are supporting President Barack Obama by 63 percent to 23 percent for Romney, according to the polls. It would be a sign that Romney understands where some of the biggest U.S. challenges and opportunities lie.
The next U.S. president, whether its Obama or Romney, will enjoy a rare chronological bonus in U.S.-Mexican relations: he will start his term almost simultaneously with a new Mexican president, which will allow the two administrations to embark on new and bold economic initiatives.
Judging from what I am hearing here from top advisers to Enrique Peña Nieto, the winner of Mexicos recent elections, the new Mexican government will be eager to upgrade economic ties with Washington.
Peña Nieto wants to boost private investments in Mexicos Pemex oil monopoly and shale gas industry, and increase U.S.-Mexico trade, among other things by joining the U.S.-proposed Trans Pacific Partnership trade initiative that would create the worlds largest free trade area in the Pacific basin, his top aides say.
Mexico is already the third largest U.S. trading partner, after China and Canada, and buys about $200 billion in U.S. exports of goods a year. To put that in perspective, the United States exports more goods to Mexico than to Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Poland combined, according to U.S. Census figures.
And at a time when European economies are growing at a snails pace or not growing at all, Mexico and Latin America in general offer the greatest opportunity for U.S. exports, Peña Nietos advisers say.
Indeed, Latin America is growing at an average of 4 percent a year, and has been growing steadily for the past decade. Over the past 10 years, about 73 million Latin Americans have joined the middle class, according to World Bank estimates, buying more goods and becoming an engine for what economists predict will be steady growth in coming years.
In addition, huge oil and shale gas discoveries in Mexico and Brazil are likely to turn Latin America into an even bigger source of world energy, further reducing the U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Already, about half of U.S. oil imports come from Western Hemisphere nations.
And then, there is always the so-called negative agenda drugs, gang violence and illegal immigration that should put Mexico and the rest of Latin America at the top of U.S. foreign policy priorities. Over the past five years, more than 50,000 people have died in Mexicos drug wars. You dont have to watch Savages the latest Oliver Stone movie to suspect that the drug cartels violence may increasingly spill over to U.S. territory.
Romney campaign sources say that their candidates foreign tour, first reported by Politico.com, will start in Great Britain later this month, and that Romney will go to Israel at a later date.
Asked why he will be bypassing Latin America, Romney spokesman Alberto Martinez told me that Gov. Romney has placed a greater emphasis on Latin America during his campaign than President Obama has during four years of his presidency.
Martinez added that While President Obama has neglected Latin America, Gov. Romney has laid out a detailed plan to expand economic ties, support allies, defend democracy, and partner on the mutual problems of drugs and crime. Gov. Romney will make our relations in Latin America a top priority.
My opinion: Granted, Obama has not paid much attention to Latin America, or launched any ambitious regional trade plan comparable to his proposed Trans Pacific Partnership.
But Obama sealed free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, and has made five trips to Latin America as president.
Also, while Romney antagonized millions of Hispanics with his hard-line anti-immigration rhetoric in the primaries, Obamas recent decision to stop deportations of about 800,000 Dream Act eligible college students who were brought to this country as infants has been applauded by most Latinos.
There is nothing wrong with Romney visiting Britain, Germany, Poland and Israel, and posing for the cameras with foreign leaders to try to blunt criticism that he lacks foreign policy experience. But the world and the U.S. electorate has changed. Romney should go back to his travel agent, and ask him to start his tour in Mexico.