Mexico-United States relations: Four key issues to bear in mind

Following the first State of the Union message to Congress, here is a quick review on the main issues of the current relationship between Mexico and the United States
Flags are pictured during the fifth round of NAFTA talks – Photo: Edgard Garrido/REUTERS
01/02/2018
15:47
Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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United States President attempted to launch an offer of strength, patriotism, and hard work Tuesday night in his first State of the Union message to Congress. However, his lengthy intervention (80 minutes) was plagued with bullying, lies, and inaccurate facts once again.

Therefore, here is a short review on the main topics in the current relationship between Mexico and the United States:

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Mexican pesos and U.S. dollar banknotes – Photo: Edgard Garrido/REUTERS

Trade

There is a cautious optimism regarding the future of the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), after a deal was reached in Montreal on January to extend the ongoing negotiations from seven to eight rounds. The last rounds will take place in Mexico in February and in Washington in March. Moreover, the negotiators agreed on a proposal related to fighting corruption as well. The three countries are making “acquiescentprogress, according to Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo. “We still have substantial challenges to overcome, yet the progress made so far places us on the right track to create landing areas to conclude this process”, he assured.

However, a new dispute erupted when Canada filed a soft-wood lumber trade complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against the United States, considered by Robert Lighthizer, U.S. Trade Representative, as “a massive attack on all of our trade laws.” Despite their contentious demands on the automotive industry, dairy and agriculture, dispute panels, government procurement, and even a five-year “sunset clause” that would end NAFTA unless the three partners agree to extend it. Thus, Mexico and Canada have also threatened to keep some sort of their own investor-dispute system that the U.S. wants to opt out of.

A lack of an agreement by March could push the process deep into 2018 and even until the following year, with potential breaks for the Mexican General Election on July and the U.S. midterm elections on November.

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Photo: Christian Torres/AP

Immigration

After years of negotiations for a bilateral, comprehensive treaty that started in 2001 during the administrations of presidents George W. Bush and Vicente Fox, Mexico is expecting very little from Washington these days and its focus relies on the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program since the central piece of the U.S. President’s speech, the “four-pillars” of his immigration reform proposal, does not pass a minimal check based on serious and well recognized studies.

For instance, he claimed, past policies “have allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans.” Setting aside the revealing results of the report The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration published on 2017 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, pointing out that the influx of new people and entrepreneurs buoyed the long-term of the American economy.

“The panel’s comprehensive examination revealed many important benefits of immigration—including on economic growth, innovation, and entrepreneurship—with little to no negative effects on the overall wages or employment of native-born workers in the long term,” said Francine D. Blau, chair of the panel that conducted the study, Los Angeles Times reported.

Still, nearly 620,000 of the so-called Dreamers are young mexicans studying in college, who, in the worst case scenario, without a deal between Congress and the White House—the latter is requesting a USD$ 25 billion package to build a border wall in exchange for the regularization of 1.8 million Dreamers—, could end up deported to Mexico even though our country is unprepared to accommodate them in its educational system.

It should be noted that from a regional perspective, Mexico is still working with the U.S. to stem the flow of undocumented immigrants from the “Northern Triangle” in Central America and last year both countries hosted a summit in Miami to discuss proposals aimed to improve the impoverished economies and the dire social conditions of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

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Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL

Security cooperation

No major changes has been established by the U.S. current administration in this area and the close military and police cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime was reiterated this week by the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his meetings with President Enrique Peña Nieto and Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray in Mexico City.

According to Reuters, Mexico and the U.S. are looking into whether armed American air marshals could be deployed on commercial cross-border flights. The hardest part of the negotiations would center on allowing U.S. officials to carry arms, given that the use of weapons by foreigners in Mexico is sensitive and tightly regulated.

Washington threatened in 2017 to cut some funds for the training of Mexican law enforcement officials to ensure the construction of the border wall; for its part, Ron Johnson, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, questioned the USD$ 2.5 billion Merida Initiative program of 2007 funded by the U.S. by stating that “corruption is reportedly at a rate never seen in Mexico as drug cartels exert increased influence over other government officials. A large number of Mexicans are defecting from law enforcement units to join cartels and department officials acknowledge that the U.S. has likely trained some cartel members through the initiative.”

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Photo: Fernando Alvarado/EFE
 
Political dialogue

 

This should be the natural scheme of high-level cooperation and understanding between the two countries, yet the border wall plan soured the personal relationship of its presidents since the U.S. 2016 elections. For the first time in recent history, the occupants of the White House and of Los Pinos have not had a bilateral meeting and their only encounters have taken place in the course of multilateral forums, such as the G-20 summit in Germany and the APEC summit in Vietnam.
 

Nevertheless, the political dialogue remains a key priority for both countries, given the need of coordination in a wide array of bilateral and international issues, ranging from organized crime to the political turmoil in Venezuela. Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray has been a frequent presence in Washington, while the U.S. Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, among other members of the federal government, maintain the usual channels of communication open.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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