Is Mexico a security risk?

It seems one cannot get through a week of news without discussion of security along the Mexican-US border. However, there seems to be something that nobody wants to discuss: Mexico’s lack of participation in US security programs like C-TPAT (Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism), and CSI (Container Security Initiative).
C-TPAT is a voluntary partnership between industry and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP). CSI, once an initiative, is now part of federal legislation. While most US global trading partners are in one way or the other participating in each of these programs, Mexico is not participating in CSI and Mexican industry is only marginally participating in C-TPAT.
The case of CSI
There are 37 operational ports and 23 governments around the world committed to being a part of CSI, allowing the CBP to have a physical presence in their countries. One would assume given Mexico’s participation, along with Canada, in the North American Free Trade Agreement and in light of the long close and cooperative economic relationships and the numbers of Mexicans living in the United States, that Mexico would be among the first to participate with us in enhancing global supply chain security.
However, Mexico is conspicuously absent. Of Mexico’s 15 seaports, two primary seaports, the Port of Tampico in the State of Tamaulipas and the Port of Veracruz in the State of Veracruz are sources of significant cargo coming to the United States. Size, however, is really not the issue. The issue is that Mexico, like Canada, is a trade partner with special considerations. Why is it refusing to participate in CSI or even sign the declaration of principles?
The case of C-TPAT
Unlike CSI, which is a mandated ­ program for ocean carriers and a foreign government-authorized program for port participants, C-TPAT is a private enterprise volunteer program intended to strengthen the global supply chain and domestic border security. The approved participants in C-TPAT receive trade facilitation treatment at US seaports from CBP. Through April, there were 18,116 members in C-TPAT, 9,083 US importers, 5,020 carriers, 2,208 brokers, 393 marine ports/terminals, and 1,412 foreign manufacturers/ vendors.
How many Mexican manufacturers and Mexican carriers participate in C-TPAT? No one really knows the total number of Mexican manufacturers, although one directory lists 45,000. However only 165 Mexican manufacturer/vendor members and 153 Mexican motorcarriers participate in C-TPAT. Yet Mexico is one of our largest trading partners with over 4 million inbound commercial truck crossings annually into the United States and boasts of being the ninth largest economy in the world.
This is not to say that Mexico eschews foreign trade agreements. It has 12 foreign trade agreements with 43 countries, including Brazil and Argentina, which have signed the declaration of principles and agreed to participate in CSI.
The roots of isolation
Since Mexico takes border-crossing security seriously, the inescapable question is: Why does Mexico refuse to be a part of CSI and why are not more Mexican manufacturers interested in joining C-TPAT?
A possible reason, and maybe the only reason, is that with respect to the United States, Mexico still believes itself to be the poor, defenseless neighbor of the northern giant and by virtue of demonstrating its sovereign right to refuse entry of US law enforcement officials to its ports or refuse to tacitly admit that it cannot provide or does not have adequate security of its own, it preserves and manifests its sovereign self-image.
Its self-image is, however, quite tainted. The United States will close its consulate in Nuevo Laredo because of gang battles in the street involving machine guns and rocket launchers. Mexico, at this time, cannot even control Nuevo Laredo, its largest border port-of-entry to the United States.
Clinging to an image at the expense of real agreements that enhance US homeland security contributes little to US-Mexico security relationships and puts into question Commissioner Bonner’s remarks portraying “…the long tradition of United States and Mexican Customs officials working closely together on a wide variety of common issues.”
James Giermanski is professor and chairman of the Department of International Business at Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, NC. His previous article for HSToday , “Solving the Southern Cargo Question” appeared in the April 2005 edition.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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