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U.S., Mexico presidents seem to favor cooperation

In my last column, I wrote about Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s letter to U.S. President Donald Trump in which he states that the issues most crucial to the U.S.-Mexico relationship are commerce, immigration, development and security.

In the letter, AMLO, as he’s known, also proposes that the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations should be accelerated and wrapped up as quickly as possible, so as to not create prolonged uncertainty over NAFTA that could put a halt to new investments in the medium to long term. On July 20, Trump sent AMLO a letter in response.

Trump’s letter to AMLO states that he agrees with the four issues outlined by the Mexican president-elect and that he has directed his team “to redouble those efforts with your incoming team.” Trump tells AMLO that “Both of our countries benefit from an economically prosperous North America. But we can do better.”

He then echoes AMLO’s position on NAFTA by stating, “I believe a successful renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement will lead to even more jobs and higher wages for hard-working American and Mexican workers – but only if it can go quickly, because otherwise I must go a much different route. It would not be my preference, but would be far more profitable for the United States and its taxpayers.” What this specific route might be or why it would be far more profitable for Americans is not clarified.

President Donald Trump speaks at a dinner meeting with business leaders in August. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

Trump then addresses AMLO’s points on immigration: “America welcomes legal immigrants from around the world, but we cannot accept illegal immigration. Like you, I believe that meeting the challenge of illegal immigration involves more than just strong border security.” And in reference to AMLO’s call for the U.S. to involve itself more in Central American countries where people have been fleeing to the U.S. via Mexico, Trump states, “We are prepared to further address the economic development and security issues that drive migration from Central America, but we must also increase cooperation to protect the rule of law and the sovereignty of both our countries, as well as vulnerable migrants who are victimized by violent criminal organizations.” Trump ends the letter with, “A strong relationship will lead to a much stronger and more prosperous Mexico, which frankly would make me very happy!”

Several things stand out about the communication between the two men. Both agree that their respective nations will benefit from a prosperous North America, and this will happen with a renegotiated NAFTA. Trump goes out on a limb, stating that this will create more jobs and higher wages for the workers of both countries, exactly the opposite of what he stated on the campaign trail when he accused Mexico of stealing U.S. jobs, and that NAFTA was the worst trade agreement ever. The NAFTA renegotiations, which Trump and his team thought would take only to the end of 2017 to complete, have become a political problem for Trump. His attacks on NAFTA have resulted in strong pushback from organizations such as the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of American Railroads, the American Petroleum Institute and the American Chemistry Council. He has backed himself into a corner with the renegotiations, which have become a distraction during this congressional election year. He needs to put this issue to bed as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, AMLO wants to settle the NAFTA issue out of the gate to show that he can successfully negotiate with the U.S. and that he is a moderate rather than a leftist politician who would oppose free trade with the U.S. Coming to an agreement with the U.S. on NAFTA would also bring him enhanced standing on the world stage as the new president of Latin America’s second-largest economy.

Trump’s statement that “America welcomes legal immigrants from around the world” does not jibe with the actions of his administration, which has been making it harder to legally emigrate to the U.S., particularly from developing countries. Perhaps the U.S. and Mexico will jointly work on immigration reform that will more easily provide American industrial sectors with badly needed labor in jobs that Americans tend to not want any more.

Finally, it is positive that both men agree that a key in solving illegal immigration to the U.S. from Central American refugees is for both countries to take a more active role in that region. This would supposedly come in the form of promoting security so that Central Americans do not feel terrorized by gangs or corrupt governments; and by working with Central American countries to create economic opportunities that would allow people from that region to earn a living to be able to raise their families in their native lands.

Most presidential administrations start with hope and promise. However, campaign platforms differ from implementation and governing. Time will tell if the cooperation being espoused by Trump and AMLO can result in positive results that benefit the citizens of both countries.

Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or at jerry@nmiba.com.

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