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Geronimo Gutierrez Fernandez, Mexico's ambassador to the United States, talks about the current state of relations between the two countries Wednesday with Arizona State University President Michael Crow, left.

Capitol Media Services, Howard Fischer

PHOENIX -- Mexico's ambassador to the United States said Wednesday those concerned about deteriorating relations between his country and ours need to speak up.

At an event organized by the Arizona-Mexico Commission, Geronimo Gutierrez Fernandez said he came to Phoenix as a showing of how his country and its government "value its relationship with Arizona and especially with the governor.''

But Gutierrez is making an active effort to reach out not only to Doug Ducey and Arizona but also to leaders of other border states, with recent trips to California and Texas, as he attempt to deal with what he said is a "critical'' state of U.S.-Mexico relations.

"Unless we do the right thing, the status quo is going to be different,'' Gutierrez said. And he told his audience that's going to require those opposed to the direction of relations to say something -- and soon.

"This is a good time for those of us who believe in the importance of a good relationship between Mexico and the United States, it's a good time to be vocal,'' he said.

"It's a good time to raise our voices, the ambassador continued. "It's a good time to educate about what the relationship between Mexico and the United States is -- and what it's not -- about.''

Gutierrez had no direct criticism of the administration or the president who during his campaign and even as the president has lashed out at Mexico and Mexicans for everything from sending drugs and criminals across the international border to taking U.S. jobs through an unfair North American Free Trade Agreement.

"It's no secret that the Trump administration and President Trump has what I would say is a basic concern about employment and investment in the United States,'' he told his audience. But Gutierrez took pains to say that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"Let me just be clear: It's a perfectly legitimate concern to be preoccupied about employment in the manufacturing sector,'' he said.

Gutierrez said, though, it's not as simple as the Trump administration makes it out to be.

"The thing is that every country, and almost every government, has the same concern,'' he said. And Gutierrez said there has to be a recognition that much of the problem of lost manufacturing jobs is caused not by trade but instead by technology.

"So we need to think about the ways, together, we can address that,'' he said.

"But we need to be careful about the diagnosis and the solutions,'' Gutierrez continued. "If not we could very well end up shooting ourselves.''

The ambassador said the relationship for the last few decades had, at least until recently, been built on some basic assumptions that people need to be reminded about going forward.

"The first one is, we are going to be better off working and listening to each other on a lot of the things we have to deal with instead of pointing fingers at each other,'' he said.

Gutierrez said that includes the things that have been part of Trump's rhetoric like drug trafficking and organized crime, as well as questions about trade and water rights.

He also said the United States needs to recognize that its concerns about security following the 2001 terrorist attacks is linked to similar concerns in Mexico, rather than U.S. officials seeing its southern neighbor as part of the problem.

"What 9-11 made very clear ... is that if you're really concerned about non-state security threats and non-traditional security threats, non-convention, you really have to be working with your partners throughout the globe to deal with security matters, especially with your neighbors,'' Gutierrez said.

Finally, he said, the two countries -- along with Canada -- made the decision to better integrate their economies through things like NAFTA.

"We decided to take a very bold step,'' Gutierrez said.

"What happened is these assumptions have recently been questioned,'' he continued, leading to a "major disruption in the bilateral relationship.''

Gutierrez said if there's any doubt about the benefits of that relationship, all anyone needs to do is see what's happening elsewhere.

"The world is a very messy place,'' he said.

He said the European Union is "under strain,'' with NATO "also under stress.''

"You do have a resurgent China that is competing militarily, politically and economically with the United States, albeit peacefully,'' Gutierrez said.

"Why complicate North America?'' he asked. "We have have something pretty good going.''

The ambassador said he was not saying that changes and updates need to be made to NAFTA.

"We do have to take into account the e-economy is here,'' he said. That means addressing things like intellectual property rights and more modern concerns about the environment.

Ducey, speaking to the same group, underlined the ties he has made directly with the national government in Mexico, citing the $8.3 billion in exports from Arizona to that country and $7.4 billion in imports.

"A safe, secure and efficient trade relationship is critical to Arizona's jobs and our future economy,'' he said. "And we're going to build on this progress together.''

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