#SABEW2010: Mexican media mogul calls for stronger U.S. ties to ’emerging market’ south of border

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Mexican businessman and philanthropist Ricardo Salinas Pliego, left, speaks with attendees of SABEW's 47th annual conference in Phoenix, March 19, 2010.

PHOENIX, MARCH 20, 2010 — Is geography destiny?

According to Mexican billionaire and philanthropist Ricardo Salinas, it is-especially if it involves the 2,000-mile border the U.S. and Mexico share.

“Instead of building fences, we should be building bridges,” said Salinas, who has been on Forbes list of the world’s richest people since 2000.

On Nov. 19, the CEO of Grupo Salinas outlined ways to build economic bridges between the two countries at SABEW’s 46th annual conference in Phoenix.

Salinas pointed to cooperation between Brownsville, Texas, and its Mexican sister city Matamoros as an example of border cities joining forces to work for the common good. In what Salinas called a win-win scenario, Matamoros provided reasonably priced skilled labor and Brownsville provided high-tech expertise. Both cities benefitted economically.

Salinas suggested that similar cooperation between U.S. and Mexican sites farther from the border could be equally successful.

“Lots of people have expressed interest in emerging markets,” Salinas said. “We have one right next door. It’s called Mexico.”

The Salinas family has been in business in Mexico for more than 100 years. When Salinas took over in 1987, the Tulane University MBA expanded the furniture company to include discount retail, banking, media and telecommunications.

Salinas, who also controls Azteca America, a U.S.-based Spanish-language television network, complained about the way many of his U.S. media colleagues portray Mexico. His country is more than drugs, dealers, trafficking and violence, he said.

“Americans should learn about Mexican opportunities instead of problems,” said Salinas, adding that Mexico and the U.S., as good neighbors, should “be unbeatable together.”

Salinas foresees two scenarios for the U.S. and Mexico by the year 2020.

In what Salinas calls a “dream scenario,” the Mexican political system would be transparent and accountable to the people, and there would be fiscal, labor, education and energy reform. There would be more competition, established monopolies would be challenged and bilateral trade could reach $500 billion.

Salinas has never shied away from criticizing Mexico’s power structure or from taking on the country’s monopolies. His TV Azteca, now Mexico’s No. 2 television network and the world’s second largest producer of Spanish-language programming, was launched in 1994 to give giant media monopoly Grupo Televisa a run for its money.

Thus, it’s not surprising that in his “nightmare scenario,” Salinas said the Mexican government and monopolies would become more corrupt and politicians and labor leaders would be increasingly inflexible. He added that there would be reduced tourism and foreign investment and that higher unemployment would result in annual illegal immigration to the U.S. jumping to one million.

The current crime, violence and insecurity in the northern part of Mexico would escalate on both sides of the border, with drugs continuing to travel north and armaments traveling in the opposite direction. According to Salinas, there is an immediate solution for this particular situation-legalization of drugs.

A long-term solution to woes on both sides of the border, according to Salinas, would be building a bigger, more competitive region. The Mexican population is young and large with a median age of 26, which he argued could not only provide labor for U.S. manufacturing, but also a market for U.S. products.

“Everyone wins when you have an interchange of goods and services,” said Salinas, who thinks a $1.5 trillion market is not an impossible dream for the region.

(Victoria Goff is a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin/ Green Bay.)

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