AMLO and Trump: Useful Scapegoats or Unlikely Allies?

Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador gives a news conference, October 31
Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador gives a news conference, October 31 (Sitio Oficial de Andrés Manuel López Obrador)

Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), looks like the perfect adversary for Donald Trump. The American represents the financial elites and inequality AMLO has railed against his entire career whereas he himself embodies the hopes of Mexico’s poorest, many of whom have sought a better life in the United States — and who have been disparaged by Trump as criminals and rapists.

But the two leaders also share traits: a populist style, policy light on detail and nostalgia for a bygone era.

The two have avoided a confrontation on trade. Immigration and security provide more opportunities for compromise — but could just as easily cause the relationship to come unstuck. Read more

Modest Gains for Trump in NAFTA Renegotiation

Flags of the United States and Canada in Washington DC, December 7, 2013
Flags of the United States and Canada in Washington DC, December 7, 2013 (Photo Phiend)

On the heels of an arbitrary — and, it turns out, unnecessary — deadline, Canada, Mexico and the United States have finalized a renegotiation the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The new deal is called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA):

What’s in it? Read more

What You Need to Know About the Election in Mexico

Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador greets a voter in San Baltazar Chichicapam, March 20, 2016
Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador greets a voter in San Baltazar Chichicapam, March 20, 2016 (Wikimedia Commons)

Mexico’s general election on July 1 will involve roughly 3,400 new elected officials taking office and $2 billion in campaign finance. It has been dubbed the biggest election in Mexican history.

It is important not only in terms of scale, but in terms of its new rules. For the first time, the ban on reelection does not apply and independent candidates can run.

This heightened capacity for change coincides with an electorate moving from apathy toward anger. Last year, only 18 percent of Mexicans told pollsters they were satisfied with their democracy, down from 41 percent in 2016. Institutional confidence is at a nadir.

Concerns about violence and insecurity related to drug cartels and organized crime are now coupled with deep frustrations about corruption and impunity as well as lopsided relations with the United States. Read more

Allies Hope for the Best from Trump, Must Plan for the Worst

Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Donald Trump of the United States listen to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of NATO making a speech in Brussels, May 25
Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Donald Trump of the United States listen to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of NATO making a speech in Brussels, May 25 (NATO)

American allies are coping with Donald Trump’s disruptive presidency in similar ways, a collection of essays in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine reveals:

  • All feel they need to step up and defend the liberal world order as Trump is determined to put “America first”.
  • They worry that a new era of American isolationism could make the world poorer and less safe.
  • Leaders are doing their best to rein in Trump’s worst impulses and most of their voters understand the need for pragmatism, although they have little faith in this president. Read more

As America Turns Inward, Europe and Mexico Double Down on Trade

European trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström and Mexican economy secretary Ildefonso Guajardo deliver a joint news conference in Brussels, May 11, 2015
European trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström and Mexican economy secretary Ildefonso Guajardo deliver a joint news conference in Brussels, May 11, 2015 (European Commission)

The European Union and Mexico have committed to deepening their economies ties in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States.

In a statement released last week, EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström and Mexican economy secretary Ildefonso Guajardo announced that they would hold talks in April and June to renew a 2000 trade agreement between the two sides.

The EU hopes to expand the trade deal to broaden property rights protection, lower tariffs and include public tenders as well as trade in energy products and raw materials. Read more

North American Energy Independence Achievable

An hydraulic fracturing station in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, August 12
An hydraulic fracturing station in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, August 12 (Nicholas A. Tonelli)

The Republican Party’s presidential candidate Mitt Romney last month unveiled a plan to achieve North American energy independence in 2020. “This is not some pie in the sky kind of thing,” Romney told voters in New Mexico. “This is a real achievable objective.”

He may be right. Read more

Economy, Not Drug War, Peña’s Main Challenge

Enrique Peña Nieto, presidential candidate for Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party, waves to supporters in the city of Torreón, June 18
Enrique Peña Nieto, presidential candidate for Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, waves to supporters in the city of Torreón, June 18 (Flickr)

Although some of the votes are being recounted to ensure that there were no irregularities, there is little question that Enrique Peña Nieto won the presidential election in Mexico this weekend. After twelve years, it marks the return to power of the country’s Institutional Revolutionary Party which ruled Mexico for more than seventy years in what was widely regarded as an authoritarian manner.

Peña’s win is hardly a repudiation of Mexican democracy however. It rather signals a desire for change than a reminiscence for the days of single party rule. As the third place finish of the incumbent liberal National Action Party showed, Mexican voters overwhelmingly desire a different economic and a different security policy.

Drug related violence in Mexico has increased dramatically during the last twelve years while economic growth has been lackluster. During the worst of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the Mexican economy contracted by almost 10 percent.

Of the two issues, security and the economy, the former has captivated the attention of international news media. Much has been made of the potential consequences of a PRI government for the war on drugs and Mexico’s relations with the United States. American officials worry that Peña will turn a blind eye to the cartels due to public pressure. This is unlikely. He faces several constraints to his actions.

Peña’s administration will be one of negotiations and commitments. The governors of Mexico’s northern states are unlikely to accept an army retreat. Moreover, Peña faces powerful adversaries within the party, including former Senate president Manlio Fabio Beltrones who will hold considerable clout in the new Congress. Finally, the PRI was not able to win an absolute majority in Congress. Peña will have to negotiate with other parties.

Although he has announced changes in security strategy — tackling specific crimes and increasing the responsibilities of American authorities — Peña’s election will not upset bilateral relations altogether. To combat the cartels, American-Mexican cooperation is an necessity.

More attention should be paid to Peña’s economic agenda, however, because if he manages to reduce public pressure on this front, Mexican authorities will be more able to implement a wide range of actions to thwart the cartels’ activities in cooperation with the United States. Unfortunately, the prospects do not look good.

While Mexico has recently surpassed countries as Brazil in terms of macroeconomic stability and growth, a report from the Center of Economic and Policy Research shows that average GDP per capita growth for 1980-2000 and for 2000-2011 has been stagnant: .8 and .9 percent, respectively. In other words, the expansion of the Mexican economy has not translated into more income per household.

Moreover, the financial crisis destroyed what had been gained in terms of poverty reduction. Though unemployment has decreased, it has still to reach its prerecession levels. Underemployment has doubled, from 6.3 to 13.2 percent while real wages have continued to shrink.

Peña has declared that his aim is to lift GDP growth by 6 percent per year. In order to achieve it, he has set several proposals of which the following are among the most important ones.

With respect to labor, Peña seeks to establish a beneficiary state and take measures so as to make wages grow faster than inflation. He has promised to boost tax revenues and decrease the government’s dependence on oil revenue. On the topic of public investment, his proposals are reminiscent of targeted industrial policy.

Peña has also declared that his government will deepen the strategic relationship with the United States but also work to increase South-South cooperation and trade with other emerging economies.

Finally, perhaps his most interesting proposals are strengthening competition regulations, which would affect monopolies, and advancing an energy reform to open the hydrocarbons industry, especially oil, to foreign investment.

Mexican experts have criticized Peña’s growth target as too optimistic and his proposals as too general and lacking quantitative, i.e., measurable, objectives. One of the reasons, as mentioned, is that Peña’s actions will be highly constrained by political realities. Approving the necessary reforms will require careful negotiation with interest groups, unions and opposition parties.

That is not to say that Mexico’s future is a gloomy one. On the contrary, as Fareed Zakaria recently argued, it is a nation on the rise. Mexico fares better than most of the BRICS countries in several categories, including the “ease of doing business.” But there is much more to be done. It will be up to the next government to implement the necessary policies to improve not only the macro but also the microeconomic situation in the country.

While his proposals have been justly criticized, Peña has surrounded himself with capable individuals such as his campaign coordinator, Luis Videgaray Caso, who holds a PhD in economics from MIT, and Emilio Ricardo Lozoya Austin, the former director of the World Economic Forum in Latin America. They will likely be part of Peña’s cabinet and be able to impact positively Mexico’s economic decisionmaking.