RHETORIC VS. REALITY

Mexico 2017 | DIPLOMACY | FOCUS: US-MEXICO RELATIONS

Though political leaders on both sides of the US-Mexican border have used inflammatory language to stir nationalist fervor, economic ties between the two countries have yet to falter.

Starting with President Trump's inauguration in January, 2017 has been a complicated year for US-Mexican relations. Donald Trump came to power in the US on a populist and economic-nationalist campaign that was famously critical of Mexico, promising to build a border wall, renegotiate NAFTA, crack down on undocumented immigrants, and punish US companies that move jobs abroad. In addition to his specific policy promises, his campaign frequently used language regarding Mexico and Mexicans considered more than offensive by many people on both sides of the border.

On the Mexican side, the government has been slower to recriminate, generally insisting that campaign rhetoric does not directly translate to political action. The government has stated its willingness to sit down and renegotiate NAFTA, acknowledging that the 20-year-old agreement could use updating, and in April, Luis Videgaray, Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Affairs, said Mexico had made “great advances” in its relationship with Trump following his inauguration.

However, many Mexicans have become disillusioned by the government's approach. Trump's inauguration in January was met with calls to boycott American products. When Ford announced its revised plans to build a USD700 million plant in Flat Rock, Michigan instead of a USD600 million factory in San Luís Potosí, Mexican companies like Coconal and Xcaret publicly canceled their orders of Ford vehicles. Now, as the 2018 Mexican presidential election approaches, anti-American sentiment has become an increasingly common element in campaign rhetoric, and the candidate leading the polls is left-wing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador who has made his contempt for the Trump government clear and promises to end collaboration with the DEA and renegotiate NAFTA in Mexico's favor.

Despite the increase in negative political rhetoric over the past year, a long-term view when analyzing US-Mexican relations is incredibly important. Most business and political leaders on both sides of the border acknowledge that, as neighbors that share one of the longest and most frequently crossed borders in the world, the US and Mexico are bound together by deep and long-standing economic, political, and cultural ties that cannot simply be undone over the course of a few years. Furthermore, the past two decades have generally been characterized by increasing political and economic integration by the US and Mexican governments, which work together and share information formally and informally in hundreds of areas ranging from trade to security, and by private sector companies.

Public sector cooperation between the US and Mexico crosses all sectors and levels of government. On a local level, there is the day-to-day cooperation between mayors of twin border cities such as San Diego and Tijuana or El Paso and Ciuadad Juarez, whose economies, security, and transport infrastructure are inextricably linked. On a state level, the governors of a number of Mexican states recently participated in the US National Governors' Association meeting on Rhode Island. On a national level, as recently as July 2017, the two countries signed an agreement regarding energy cooperation to strengthen the reliability of electric networks and improve technology sharing. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents operate in many of Mexico's seaports and airports, while Mexican officials are stationed at US CBP headquarters in Virginia to monitor international cargo entering and exiting both countries.

The private sector especially has increasingly integrated operations and supply chains across the North American region. As Alberto Jones Tamayo, the Director General for Mexico of international ratings agency Moody's, explained to TBY, “The fact of the matter is that the three economies of North America are highly integrated. Business operations in many sectors of the three economies are tightly linked and depend on each other, not for business reasons but rather because they are operationally integrated and cannot be unwound by decree.”