More free trade in the hemisphere will help economies in the Americas compete with Asia, while curbing immigration into the United States and strengthening Mexico’s trade relationship with Georgia, Mexican Ambassador Carlos de Icaza said.

Mr. de Icaza spoke at a luncheon last week at the Capital City Club hosted by the Atlanta Council on International Relations, the Consulate General of Mexico and the Southern Center for International Studies.

“Cafta [Central American Free Trade Agreement] is good. If we want to further our economic integration in North America, we need more free trade in the world and in the region,” he told GlobalAtlanta following the luncheon.

“If we want to stop so much migration flows into the U.S., we need to bring more opportunities to countries in Central and South America through trade,” he added.

Mr. de Icaza said future free trade agreements in the hemisphere would add to the benefits of Nafta, which he heralded as a success story for Canada, Mexico and the U.S., as well as Georgia. Mexico is now Georgia’s third largest export market, with exports there totaling $1.5 billion in 2004, up from $411 million in 1993 before Nafta was enacted.

Mr. de Icaza stressed that Nafta is only a trade agreement, saying he does not think the Nafta countries are ready to form a common market like that in Europe. But he added that further North American integration that takes full advantage of the three countries’ “complimentarities” would increase the hemisphere’s ability to compete with Asia, specifically China.

Immigration policy reform must also be part of a regional plan for increased competitiveness and security in North America, Mr. de Icaza said.

“If we are partners in trade, if we are partners in fighting organized crime, if we are partners in facing the challenges of the 21st century, can’t we be partners in matching willing companies with willing workers?” Mr. de Icaza asked, referring to the formation of a guest worker program that would allow Mexicans to work legally in the U.S.

Guest worker programs could “recover circularity,” meaning a return to Mexican migrants’ circular pattern of working in the U.S. for a temporary period and then returning to Mexico, he said. He noted that in the 1990s the average stay of a Mexican worker in the U.S. was two years, but now it has increased to six years.

Mr. de Icaza commented that a good start for further integrating the North American economies was the May 18 meeting of the “Independent Task Force on the Future of North America.”

The group of 31 business leaders, policymakers and scholars from Canada, Mexico and the U.S. unveiled recommendations to help the countries strengthen North America’s global competitiveness, expand trade and ensure border security, with the goal of establishing a North American security and economic community by 2010.

The task force, which was coordinated by the Council on Foreign Relations and expanded on the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America recommendations adopted by Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, Mexican President Vicente Fox, and U.S. President Bush at a summit in Texas in March, plans to meet again June 23.

Contact the Mexican Consulate General in Atlanta at (404) 266-2233 for more information. Contact Mr. de Icaza at (202) 728-1692 or visit See for the full text of the task force’s recommendations.