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US-Mexican Relations on the Brink

This article was originally published by The National Memo.

By Amanda Mattingly

The assumed alliance and cooperation between the United States and Mexico is being tested, if not toppled. President Enrique Peña Nieto is confronted with an unapologetic President Donald Trump, who intends to make good on his campaign promises to tear up the 23-year-old North America Trade Agreement (NAFTA), deport millions of Mexican immigrants who entered the country illegally, and build his wall. 

Until recently, Peña Nieto approached Trump with the sense of cooperation typical to relations with a new foreign leader. He received Trump for a meeting and photo-op in Mexico last August (despite the very obvious negative impact on his approval ratings at home) and stated that he seeks dialogue with Trump. He even listed his own goals for talks with Trump in Washington, including the humane treatment of Mexican migrants, preservation of free trade in North America, and building bridges instead of walls—all of which diverge dramatically from Trump’s agenda. But then Peña Nieto canceled his Washington visit in an extraordinary, high-stakes move that publicly pits him against Trump. 

For his part, Trump has approached Mexico as a country he can steamroll. His campaign preyed on the prejudices and economic maladies of rural and Rust Belt Americans who wanted an enemy to blame for the loss of jobs—despite the fact that more American jobs were lost to technology than foreign workers. Trump believes he can mitigate their pain by targeting others. In this case, Mexico has served as his piñata. He continues to claim Mexico will pay for the wall, without recognizing that Mexico poses multiple layers of economic and security challenges that extend far beyond any wall he could possibly build.

Tearing up NAFTA wholesale and imposing a 20 percent tariff on Mexican imports to pay for the wall would be disastrous for both the U.S. and Mexican economies. The United States trades approximately $1 trillion a year with Mexico and Canada. The interconnectedness of the three economies since the implementation of NAFTA cannot be overstated. It is also worth noting that Canada and Mexico are the top two export destinations for the United States, and according to the U.S. Trade Representative, American exports to Mexico account for approximately $236 billion a year. If NAFTA is torn up, U.S. companies would lose out alongside Mexican and Canadian companies. 

Meanwhile, deporting millions of Mexican immigrants who have been living and working in the United States for years—for some of them, their whole lives—would be logistically impossible, cost prohibitive, and inhumane, just as Peña Nieto indicates. The cause and effect relationship of jobs and immigration must be highlighted as well: Trump cannot expect to dismantle NAFTA without causing a dramatic impact on the Mexican economy and security, thus increasing the likelihood for a massive surge in illegal migration to the United States in the coming years.

Building a wall along the 2,000-mile border is equally untenable and unnecessary, particularly as many portions of the border cut through inaccessible terrain. Trump has already signed an executive order to begin construction on the wall, a poor use of funds that could go toward more modern and enhanced technologies for border protection, training and equipment for additional border patrol guards on both sides, and better intelligence capabilities. These advancements can more successfully thwart not just the illegal flow of migrants across the border but also the illegal flow of drugs, weapons, and money.

All of these issues are roiling Mexico’s politics as well as its economy. Mexico has already endured the Trump effect with the fall in the peso, and with presidential elections in Mexico slated for 2018, there will be much ado about Peña Nieto and the ruling Mexican Institutional Revolutionary Party’s handling of Trump and the economy. No doubt, a multitude of candidates will emerge in 2017 to tap into Mexican nationalism, leaving the possibility that an extreme left-wing candidate like Andrés Manuel López Obrador will gain widespread support.

We need to bring U.S.-Mexican relations back from the brink. The best-case scenario moving forward would be a tough resolve to preserve and protect U.S.-Mexican relations and negotiate a way forward on trade, immigration, and border security, all without laying us bare to a major economic, political, and security crisis in Mexico. Modernizing and improving certain terms of the trade agreement, deporting those illegal immigrants who have committed criminal offenses, and enhancing the security technologies, mechanisms, and personnel along the border that both countries could work toward would be a win-win for both Trump and Peña Nieto. But more importantly, it would be a win-win for both the United States and Mexico.



Amanda Mattingly is a senior director at The Arkin Group and a Truman National Security Fellow. She previously served as a foreign affairs officer at the State Department. Views expressed are her own.

[Photo courtesy of Jonathan McIntosh]


Anonymous's picture
Not So Distant Neighbors

First and foremost I am for the advancement, betterment and qualitative enrichment of individuals, families, business opportunities and the societies and economies of both Mexico and the USA. I enjoyed your article filled with rich reminders of some of the positive aspects of U.S. Mexico trade. Some time needs to be taken to allow wisdom, experience and well studied analysis of past, current and future opportunities and plans between the USA and Mexico to be developed. While I have a preference for respect, graciousness and well informed accuracy alongside any statements made between individuals or nations, there is merrit in much of what is said, even if not said so eloquently or graciously. For consideration by Mexico: Isn't there an aspect of Trump that is calling for the same political clean up and reform in the U.S. that recent winning mayors and legislators have used as their own platforms in Mexico - even being heralded as the new political movement. I support the call for the USA to address the economic importance presented in the article as well as the intertwined current and long term social, economic and security issues that are best protected and advanced by both nations. Regardless of the option to take offense at a different , less diplomatic style of communication coming from the USA, why might Mexico choose to be very patient, very understanding and extremely wise at this time in support of the best preservation and advancement of multiple cross border issues - among which future trade and future immigration policy are included. In addition to the best possible trade and future immigration policy that can be assumedly be negotiated to an end that is mutually beneficial, Mexico has a great deal to preserve and protect. Of the one million immigrant people annually advanced to legal resident status in the USA, the largest single percentage is of people of origin from Mexico. Mexico has 35 million plus obvious cultural allies in the USA, those of Mexican national birth or lineage. This population in its majority is successfully integrated into the USA society and economy, citizens, legal residents and the referenced 11 million of presently residency document challenged people. This population with its family ties with Mexico sends $25 billion annually in remittances to Mexico, to families directly, not to the government, and yet since the economy benefits - the municipal, state and federal governments of Mexico benefit. The USA multi-trillion USD economy employs a national population that in turn uses their discretion to cause another leading economic benefit to Mexico, tourism income from the USA. The autos assembled in Mexico are in the vast majority sold into the USA economy. These are just leading examples as to how proposing adversity to the USA economy could result in adversity of an even more damaging effect to the economy of Mexico. Historically, the healthier the USA economy - the healtheir the economy of Mexico. If one considers these socio-economic ties unfortunate then please consider the following: There is a majority population and bi-partisan sentiment of good will towards Mexico and towards citizens, legal residents and document challenged people from Mexico. People from Mexico are in business and political leadership, and high profile and well received in entertainment and sports roles throughout the USA. There is abundant successful cross border business and cross border social, human, personal dynamics occurring right as I write and you read in this forum. I'm challenged and I challenge all those of wisdom and deep understanding of Mexico - USA matters. Let's look at the true, larger, positive economic and social mutuality and find the way to bring that to the forefront. The Current "Negotiator in Chief" is using sometimes inferior word choice and cultural symbolism and yet is it recognized that he can also state that respects past leaders from Mexico for having out-maneuvered the USA in negotiations on trade matters. Fair deliberate review will lead to the trade agreement that is understood and workable, even if its close to what is already in place. There is wisdom in the USA about Mexico and trade with Mexico among many business leaders and congressmen. Especially from those states with significant trade with Mexico. There have been proven polls as to the welcoming, non-expulsion preference of a majority of the population in the USA regarding current immigrants. This is historically indicated with prior "amnesty" in the era of President Reagan and with the proposals as recently as with President George Bush and through President Obama, there is generally good will towards Mexico. This is true on both sides of the political isle. The states of Texas, California, Illinois and Detroit are clearly inter-dependent with the economy of Mexico. There are those in Mexico that now shout how Mexico needs to be seeking diversity in its trade... it has already done the best job in the world to achieve this with 40 trade agreements - a superior job by comparison to the USA. Mexico has no better friends than its true friends in the USA. Mexico has no more friends than its true friends in the USA. The USA friends of Mexico and their economic contributions will not be equaled or replaced from anywhere, perhaps complemented but not equaled. A little more time, some perspective, some wisdom coming from both sides of the border can lead to a better resolve than what is indicated by some current daily headlines and tweets. Viva Mexico Viva USA Viva To Be Negotiated Evolving Positive Mutually Beneficial alignments.

Anonymous's picture
A Can Do attitude is all it takes

With the very quick implementation of what many supporters excused as "just words," do you really think that man won't build a wall, that he won't round up and deport millions of people, or that he won't destroy trade agreements no matter the damage done? Yes, it's going to happen. That much is already obvious. Yes, it will be a logistical nightmare, probably on the same scale as rounding up millions of people in Europe, sending them by train to internment camps, and then efficiently dealing with their remains after they died. But, efficient, hard working people made it happen. Eventually, they paid a horrible price for giving that support. What will the efficient, hard working American people accomplish? What price will they eventually pay for this support? Will those that oppose this future be the story history books write about, or will the few that dared to act just be written about in the footnotes? Yes, there is an internet rule: the first person to invoke Hitler in an debate automatically loses. Trump, if nothing else, has proven to be an exception to many rules.
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