The Future of U.S.-Mexico Relations at PolicyWest
Mexico
October 24, 2018

Watch the entire panel discussion and read a summary below:

The Pacific Council’s PolicyWest conference on Oct. 12 included a panel addressing U.S.–Mexico relations, featuring speakers Luis Madrazo, Secretariat of Finance and Public Credit of COMEXI, Antonio Ortiz-Mena, Senior Vice President of Albright Stonebridge Group, and Jennifer Piscopo, Assistant Professor of politics at Occidental College. Andy Carey, Executive Director of the U.S.–Mexico Border Philanthropy Partnership nonprofit, moderated the discussion.

Carey opened the talk by emphasizing how inextricably linked the United States is to Mexico, especially as it relates to trade. More than five million jobs in the United States depend on trade with Mexico and 22 of the 50 states rely on Mexico as their number one trading partner, according to Carey.

The panel focused on the most current challenges facing the relationship between the two nations, particularly as they relate to the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, and the upcoming inauguration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as Mexico’s next president.

While Madrazo said he does not think that the United States and Mexico are strongly linked solely because of NAFTA, he believes the derailing of NAFTA would pose a danger to the relations between the two countries. 

In August, President Donald Trump announced that the United States and Mexico reached an agreement to alter parts of NAFTA, a 24-year-old trilateral treaty that governs more than $1.2 trillion worth of trade between the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

According to CNN, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said some of the biggest changes that negotiators from both countries agreed to at the time included a new deal in auto manufacturing where 75 percent of car parts sold in North America would be required to be produced in the United States or Mexico and higher labor standards, such as requiring that 40 to 45 percent of sold car parts be made by workers earning a minimum of 16 U.S. dollars per hour.

"If you look at the end result of the negotiations…it is an upgrade on integrating the digital component of the economy, and energy and [telecommunications] which were not originally a part of NAFTA. It does have some elements that, as somebody who believes in free trade, I don’t think are ideal."

Luis Madrazo

By the end of September, all three countries reached an agreement to update NAFTA. Leaders from the three countries must sign it and then the Mexican Congress and Canadian Parliament must approve it, meaning that most of the key provisions of the new deal will not begin until 2020, according to The Washington Post. The new agreement, which will be known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, must also receive U.S. Senate approval.

Madrazo said he advocates for a swift confirmation of the treaty.

"A successful renegotiation of NAFTA, and I want to define that in a broad sense, is a very good piece of news for both Mexico and the U.S.," Madrazo said. "If you look at the end result of the negotiations…it is an upgrade on integrating the digital component of the economy, and energy and [telecommunications] which were not originally a part of NAFTA. It does have some elements that, as somebody who believes in free trade, I don’t think are ideal."

The "new NAFTA" will aim to have more automobile parts made in North America, upgrade environmental and labor regulations, and increase protections for patents and trademarks, according to The Washington Post.

The previous NAFTA trade agreement mainly prevented the three countries from imposing tariffs on their imports from each other, but Trump imposed steep tariffs on steel and aluminum from Mexico, Canada, and also the European Union in May.

"I don’t think that’s the way to treat neighbors… allies… friends," Ortiz-Mena said.

When asked whether Trump’s rhetoric has affected the trust between the Mexican people and the United States, Piscopo said that from her interactions with every day people in a variety of Latin American countries, she has found that Trump’s “bombastic” rhetoric has generated sympathy abroad for Americans.

While Ortiz-Mena said ratification of this agreement is not assured, he believes the three countries will approve the USMCA. 

When asked whether Trump’s rhetoric has affected the trust between the Mexican people and the United States, Piscopo said that from her interactions with every day people in a variety of Latin American countries, she has found that Trump’s “bombastic” rhetoric has generated sympathy abroad for Americans.

"He’s almost such a caricature that I think people who are not subject to their own fake news machines…[they] think it can’t possibly be the case that many Americans believe what he says," Piscopo said. "More educated, middle-class folks in these other countries sort of get that there is a representational mismatch."

Piscopo also discussed Mexico’s future with the nation’s next president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, also known by his initials AMLO. He is expected to be sworn into office on Dec. 1.

Piscopo underscored that AMLO’s victory was a result of the voters’ discontent over their other options for president and not necessarily because AMLO was the popular choice.

"The question about the importance of having multiple parties who can provide representational vehicles for citizens of diverse ideological views is extremely important," Piscopo said. "When those parties start to break down, there is a move to these outsider candidates."

"The question about the importance of having multiple parties who can provide representational vehicles for citizens of diverse ideological views is extremely important," Piscopo said. "When those parties start to break down, there is a move to these outsider candidates."

Madrazo and Ortiz-Mena both said they are not optimistic about AMLO’s intention to fight corruption, a goal that was heavily showcased on his campaign platform.

Ortiz-Mena stated that while AMLO’s attempt to take down government corruption may be earnest, there should be concern with the fact that there is no public policy set to do so yet.

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Alexandra Chan is a USC graduate student participating in a foreign affairs reporting class taught by Professor Phil Seib, a collaboration between the Pacific Council and the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.

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