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WEBCAST | AMLO, Trump, and the Bilateral Relationship

In light of this week's meeting between President Lopez Obrador and President Trump, the Wilson Center's Mexico Institute was pleased to host a dialogue with experts on the state of U.S.-Mexico relations.

Date & Time

Jul. 8, 2020
9:00am – 10:30am ET


Online Only

WEBCAST | AMLO, Trump, and the Bilateral Relationship

With Mexican President Lopez Obrador's upcoming visit to the United States to meet with President Trump on July 8th-9th, it is an opportune moment to reflect on where we are at in the bilateral relationship and to discuss principles for a stronger future. This first meeting between the two presidents will focus on important issues in the bilateral relationship and will celebrate the July 1st launch of the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

In light of this meeting, the Wilson Center's Mexico Institute was pleased to host a dialogue with experts on the state of U.S.-Mexico relations.

Selected Quotes

Earl Anthony Wayne

“Right now what they should be thinking about, and I hope they will, is launching forward-looking initiatives aimed at the economy, at public security, at better border management. At even dealing with migration over the medium and longer term, even though I know that will be a harder initiative to get going.”

“USMCA provides 16 years of certain rules. There’ll be a lot of problems along the way, but there’s a whole prospect of certainty for investment in Mexico, for trade with Mexico, and I think that’s really important for Lopez Obrador. And even more so during the COVID-19 crisis when the IMF is now saying they’re gonna drop GDP by ten and a half percent, and there are many many Mexicans out of employment and many more who will probably be out of employment in the future. So this is an opportunity for the President of Mexico to send a positive signal that there’s hope out there.”

“There is no bilateral relationship in the world that touches the daily lives of more Americans than the U.S.-Mexico relationship. We should not forget that. That’s why this visit is important, because it’s a postmark in that process. And that’s why all the crisis management of the past 18 months is important because it’s been missing the opportunities and the important issues that are there. So yes, what’s key is how do you take that forward? Can we build the mechanisms and institutions to deal with the problems and take advantage of the opportunities? Can we involve the stakeholders?”

Roberta Jacobson

“The real question is what comes out of this, and frankly to me it’s a bit of a lost opportunity. This is an ideal time to relaunch a North American relationship with all three of the leaders, especially with people questioning the relationship with China and the overreliance on that and supply chains, and yet that’s clearly not gonna be able to be done here.”

“I think that you do your utmost to make sure that you're not sending a dramatic signal of support for the incumbent president who is also a candidate. And the way you do that, as Geronimo said, is you meet with the Democrats. I think it’s important to remember that USMCA could not have been passed in the United States without Democratic support. Jorge’s question is exactly right. But, in fact, Democrats were not invited to the White House ceremony when USMCA was signed.”

“All of us on this panel are committed to this relationship and understand that we are better together. That we do better together for our populations. I think this is a particularly fraught moment for the relationship … we need to develop the institutions that channel those relationships. We have it with the U.S.-Mexico CEO dialogue, but we need to get back to them in government because they ensure the resilience of the relationship through whatever shock may affect it. But we also need to expand, to celebrate, to deepen the people-to-people contacts”.

Geronimo Gutierrez

“There is evidence that presidents of Mexico have met previously with presidents in the same state as what is going on now. I think that there needs to be extra care to make sure that President AMLO’s visit to the U.S. does not send the wrong signal to the Democratic camp or to anyone else that he has chosen sides. My view is that the Mexican government should always try to not have a bent on any one party or any one candidate in the United States, but sort of have a balanced approach and contact with both of them. The fact that the Congress is in recess in the U.S. right now does not help I guess, perhaps that would have allowed some form of interaction with both parties, I’m not sure. The timing might not be perfect, but is there a perfect timing?”

“[President López Obrador] took the right decision to support continuing economic integration in North America, and that’s something very positive, but do not make the mistake that USMCA would be sufficient to turn around the Mexican economy...It’s okay to celebrate this new trade agreement, especially in the light of what is happening worldwide in respect to globalization and trade, but let’s not make the mistake to think that that will solve all the woes and the troubles in Mexico on the economic front because I don’t think it will. If there is not a better investment climate for both foreign and domestic private investment, it will be very difficult to use the opportunity of USMCA and the drift between China and the United States to our advantage.”

“It’s no secret that there are differences, and there will continue to be differences between the Mexican government and the Trump administration. I think that if this visit allows somehow to make those differences obvious and clear, but not insulting, I think that will be something positive, and I think that’s key. We will always have differences, and probably in this context even more so, but we need to learn how to make these differences clear and public but not insulting, not demeaning, not disrespectful because any relationship as complex as the one we have is liable to have differences.”

Carlos Heredia

“[President López Obrador] needs to reassure people in Mexico and outside Mexico that he will continue to work together with our trade partner, our neighbor, and that’s an important message to send... However, I am afraid that the phrase that President López Obrador announced at the beginning of his mandate, namely that the best foreign policy is a good domestic policy, has reversed because there’s a long line of Mexicans who want to talk to the U.S. Ambassador and to convey messages to President Trump. For the President of the United States to tell the Mexican President how to behave, and that’s very strange, to bring into Mexican politics Donald Trump as a key actor, and that is happening as we speak.”

“Another thing that we have left aside is what is happening especially at the Texas Tamaulipas border. You know the number of people that are living there as part of the ‘Remain in Mexico,’ or euphemistically called the Migrant Protection Protocol, is really a tragedy, a humanitarian tragedy because supposedly that was part of an agreement, and Mexico should have looked after those people for shelter, for food, for healthcare, and none of that has happened. Asylum seekers have been totally abandoned to the hands of organized crime. So one thing may be supposedly agreed upon, but what happens afterward leads us to believe that maybe it wasn’t part of an agreement, it was part of an imposition or part of the impossibility to really deliver on all of the demands from the other side.”

“There is an underlying assumption that Mexico can attract a lot of Chinese business and investment out of the fact that there is always an ongoing trade war and technological leadership war between the United States and China. I think that might be misled because the question we have to ask ourselves is ‘Why hasn’t it materialized over the past 25 years?’ Chinese investment in Mexico is extremely low. I don’t see the conditions for it to change dramatically even if we continue to have this framework of animosity and adversity between China and the United States. The conditions are not there domestically.”

Alejandro Moreno

“During the pandemic, I don’t remember measuring any attitude that had positive ratings, except the approval ratings for the President. Anything else has been a bad mood from the majority of Mexicans. Low expectations, negative expectations about the future, about a third of our respondents who have reported losing income or losing their job or a source of work, this is getting really negative in terms of the mood that we’ve been measuring with the exception of USCMA. This has been very surprising because 64% are optimistic about it, and they expect quick results. Of course, this is a risky issue too because if it doesn’t work like that, it may actually cost additional points down in the approval ratings and ultimately in the election that we have next year in July.”

“What he may get from the visit is perhaps...a rebound in his popularity ratings that may benefit from this visit, but it is not likely to last if those results do not start to be perceived by most Mexicans.”

“What we have observed is that within the past weeks, when approval ratings for President López Obrador have gone through their lowest point in all of his government, it’s a time when remittances have actually shown these moments of troubles for Mexican families and the solidarity from families in the United States. They have gone up, as we know, and we measured in the last poll how receiving remittances might link to political support. In the poll, almost 40%, about 38%, of respondents said that they have family members in the United States. This is a huge percent, of course, we know that. From those, about 14% say they actually receive resources, money, remittances from their family members. Interestingly, those who receive remittances are the ones who approve the least of the way the President is doing his job, so this is not translating into political support.”

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