Mexico Expects:

  • Mexico is deeply concerned that the US-Mexico relationship will become more conflictive.
  • That the new administration will respect the fact that the two countries are friends, partners, and allies and must continue to work together “for the competitiveness and development of North America.”
  • The United States will work together with Mexico on a plan for coordinating border, communications, transportation, and energy infrastructure  to maximize the benefits for the North American economy and to ensure that security concerns are taken into consideration.

 

Q: What is the greatest challenge facing the United States’ relationship with Mexico?

A: Mexico featured heavily in this presidential campaign and it is clear that there is much work to be done to change the country’s image in the eyes of many American voters. There is a widespread perception in the United States that Mexico is responsible for job losses in manufacturing and that illegal migration and the call for bringing jobs home to Americans and building a wall to keep out immigrants became key messages in the campaign that swept Trump to power. In Mexico there is a sense of deep concern, and a belief that the relationship will become a lot more conflictive. Former foreign minister Jorge Castaneda has called the election result “an unmitigated disaster” for Mexico, claiming that “there are very few tools to fix the relationship”.

At the same time, the two countries share an economic relationship that is of enormous importance to them both. Bilateral trade worth more than $500 billion a year, or more than a million dollars a minute, crosses the border and maintains the competitiveness of a regional manufacturing platform that generates prosperity in both nations. According to a recent Wilson Center study, almost five million U.S. jobs depend on the trading relationship with Mexico, and increased integration has allowed many American firms to remain globally competitive and to both protect and create new jobs.

The greatest challenge, therefore, is for the two countries to come together and develop a bilateral agenda that is both constructive and meets, at least partially, both of their goals.

Q: What will the next president need to do to improve or fix these obstacles?

A: There are reasons to think that the popular reaction to the election results are exaggerated. The response from Mexico’s President, Enrique Peña Nieto, to Trump’s victory was to emphasize the need for cooperation and mutual respect, while at the same time stressing that Mexico and the United States are “friends, partners and allies” who must continue to work together “for the competitiveness and development of North America”. This extension of an olive branch, consistent with the much-derided invitation to candidate Trump to visit Mexico in late August, highlights the pragmatic approach that the Mexican government will take to the new political reality.  A telephone conversation between the Mexican President and U.S. President-elect has already taken place and they have agreed to meet before Inauguration Day to prepare the path for the new relationship.

It is imperative that President-elect Trump seizes the opportunity presented here and considers the enormous benefits that accrue to the U.S. people from the bilateral relationship with Mexico, and examines ways to strengthen that relationship.  The best way forward will be through bilateral cooperation on an issue that is of critical importance to the new President, and to the U.S. and Mexican economies: infrastructure.

Q: How would that infrastructure agenda be realized?

A: In terms of areas ripe for collaboration, the path is clear. President-elect Trump’s victory speech emphasized infrastructure investment and the jobs that come with it. Mexico and the United States can now work together on a plan for coordinating border, communications, transportation, and energy infrastructure plans to maximize the benefits for the North American economy and to ensure that security concerns are taken into consideration. This infrastructure conversation needs to engage with the wider community of stakeholders, the business and local residents who will be affected by new projects, so that benefits are maximized and broadly shared.

When it comes to the border, heightened border controls and security must be matched by a focus on efficiency, allowing the goods and people that we want to cross smoothly, while keeping out those that we don’t. Preventing long delays at the border is not only good for business, it is also essential for the welfare of border communities, improving quality of life and reducing air pollution concerns.

On communications and transportation, there exists a consensus that meaningful large-scale investment will not only help produce jobs, but also advance the competitiveness of the two economies. Updating roads, railways and ports, and improving internet access across the region will attract increased interest from international investors. By far the most effective way to do this will be to coordinate investments so that highways and railways connect with each other, and with ports and airports, speeding the efficient movement of goods and inputs needed for the integrated production platform that has been built across the North American region. At the same time, critical infrastructure security, including the crucial issue of cyber-security must be discussed on a bilateral basis to ensure optimal results and protect these projects.

Lastly, on energy, we find ourselves at a unique historical juncture when an incoming U.S. President who has emphasized the importance of the energy sector in producing jobs and prosperity, has the opportunity to engage with a Mexican counterpart whose sector is open for investment, and who is eager to see further infrastructure projects come to fruition, particularly in the area of gas and oil pipelines and electricity transmission. A consolidated approach, one that builds on the positive experience of the meetings of the North American Energy ministers since 2014, has the potential to lower the cost of energy across the region, and to increase energy security at the same time.