November 30, 2016

One week after this year’s U.S. presidential election, an alumni event in Mexico City convened experts to discuss the potential effects of the incoming Donald Trump administration on U.S.-Mexico relations while demonstrating a new video platform that allowed alumni around in the world to watch and take part in the event in real time.

The November 16 event, first in a series of Global Dialogues @ SIPA, was sponsored by SIPA and hosted by the Columbia University Alumni Club of Mexico. Joining 85 alumni and guests locally were additional viewers who watched from international locations via a new video platform called Zoom.

Panelists included moderator Aurora Adame MIA ’99, a political and economic analyst who is a former director of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI); Beatriz Leycegui MIA ’90 of the consulting firm SAI Law & Economics; Luis Rubio, president-elect of COMEXI and director of CIDAC, a think tank that focuses on development; and SIPA Vice Dean Eric Verhoogen, co-director of the Center for Development Economics and Policy, who joined via video link from New York.

On stage from left: Panelist Beatriz Leycegui MIA ’90, moderator Aurora Adame MIA ’90, and panelist Luis Rubio.

“We say here at SIPA that we are the most global policy school,” Verhoogen said in his opening remarks. “Events like this make me feel that it’s true, not hyperbole.”

Alejandro Osorio SIPA ’01, president of the Mexico alumni club, said it was “thrilling” to host the first SIPA event that connected alumni, faculty, and experts through Zoom.

“We often have important speakers at our events here, but to have this broadcast live, and to have SIPA alumni and Dean Verhoogen join us from other countries was very exciting,” he said. “At such an important moment in U.S.-Mexican relations, it was so great to see SIPA take the initiative in dialogue on these complex issues. It’s also great to know that the debate held at our club will be available to SIPA alumni worldwide.”

Other alumni on site were also pleased to virtually welcome international participants.

“It was great to use new technology to connect with SIPA faculty and fellow SIPA alumni around the world,” said Ricardo Araiza MPA ’02.

“It was impressive to have Dean Verhoogen join us virtually on a big screen in Mexico City from New York and also to have online questions from people overseas,” said Roberto Salas MIA ’09.

The tech team handles the live broadcast sent out to online participants on the Zoom platform.

Global Dialogues @ SIPA is a new signature series in the ongoing celebration of SIPA’s 70th anniversary, designed to use new web technology to connect SIPA faculty with the global network of SIPA alumni. Lois Lord-Sharma, director of marketing for SIPA’s 70th Anniversary Celebration, discussed the new series and the Zoom platform.

“We wanted to find a way to connect our top faculty in New York with leading SIPA alumni, many of whom are in important positions of leadership in their home countries,” Lord-Sharma said. “We also wanted to give alumni who couldn’t attend the live event the opportunity to attend online and actively participate in the Q&A. Leveraging web platform technology gave us the flexibility to deliver a truly global event to our alumni.

“One of the goals for the 70th anniversary campaign is to deepen engagement with our SIPA alumni,” she continued. “This technology allowed us all to connect the global SIPA community in a highly topical debate and dialogue and we hope to use this technology to deliver similar events to SIPA alumni in the future.”

In Mexico City, panelists shared informed opinions on possible economic trajectories for the United States and Mexico in the years ahead.

Rubio said economic reality is changing dramatically, with the technology revolution and globalization as two key drivers. While he emphasized that governments and institutions are slow to change, he observed that people are also often unable or unwilling to adjust.

This difficulty was seen in Mexico over the past years, he said.

“NAFTA became the solution to the lack of trust and confidence in Mexican economic reform efforts,” said Rubio. “The loss of NAFTA would mean a dire scenario for the region, economically but also because of security and geopolitical challenges.”

Leycegui also discussed the potential implications of the Trump administration on NAFTA, noting that the new president will have at his disposal tools to freeze accounts and impose tariffs and other restrictions.

Mexico and the United States “trade together and produce together,” Leycegui observed, likening their economic relationship to a marriage. She went on to quote the author Gabriel García Márquez: “The most important thing in a marriage is not happiness, but stability.”

The importance of the economic ties between the two countries was a major theme of the night. Leycegui noted that Mexico is the United States’ second-most important trading partner after Canada; the United States benefits at a rate of 40 cents to each dollar that Mexico exports.

Panelists mused on the feasibility of some of Trump’s economic campaign promises.

“There are conservative businesspeople who support Trump, but there is a limit to how much they will stand in his corner,” Verhoogen said.

The panelists did agree, however, that it was highly likely Trump would try to re-negotiate the terms of NAFTA, and considered what Mexico could do in such a situation.

Leycegui said that Mexico could potentially propose new agreements with the United States to promote anti-corruption efforts, e-commerce, trade facilitation, and border improvements. She said investment promotion, technology transfer, and increases in accountability would be key to any additions or revisions.

Verhoogen observed that the United States would likely expect cooperation from Mexico on the drug war.

For Mexico, Leycegui said, cooperation and mobilization of the government and the private sector is necessary to be prepared for a potential re-negotiation of NAFTA.

For those who attended in person and online, it was a most timely and lively debate.

“We are excited about this new Global Dialogues format, and hope to expand this to other cities where we have SIPA alumni groups looking to connect in this way”, said Lord-Sharma. “It’s an exciting way to connect our global SIPA community during this special 70th anniversary year, and has the potential to make an impact both within our SIPA community and outside it.”

Kasumi Takahashi MPA ’17 contributed to this article.