Energy reform, trade disputes and the migration crisis may hinder the good progress of relations between Mexico Y U.S When one year has passed since the arrival of Joe Biden to the White House.
Democrat Biden took office as the 46th president of the United States on January 20, 2021 with a reassuring message for Mexico that was reflected in the first virtual meeting with the Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, On March 1.
“We see Mexico as an equal, not as someone south of our border,” Biden said then, setting the tone.
“Now I can say that it is wonderful for Mexico to be close to God and not so far from the United States,” López Obrador added.
But although the outbursts of President Donald Trump (2017-2021) are behind us, the bilateral reality is far from perfect.
“As always, there have been ups and downs. The bilateral relationship has always had peaks, extremely solid moments, and breaking moments. This year has not been the exception”, said the coordinator of the Global Business degree at the Universidad Iberoamericana Mexico City, Aribel Contreras.
Between January and November 2021, Mexico has been the main trading partner of the United States, although closely followed by Canada and China.
And on their huge common border – which was finally reopened in November after 20 months of closure due to the pandemic – it is estimated that every day, at least until the health crisis, goods and services were exchanged for some US $ 1,700 million.
But the controversies unleashed within the framework of the Treaty between Mexico, the United States and Canada (T-MEC), in terms of labor rights and also in production, can cloud the situation.
The United States approved that as of 2025, 75% of a vehicle and its essential components must be manufactured in the country to avoid customs duties.
But Mexico and Canada consider that the vehicles and components produced in their countries should count to avoid tariffs and, therefore, at the proposal of the first country, they requested a panel to resolve the differences.
“It will not be the first time that Mexico and the United States have an arbitration panel. A poor relationship has few problems, but in a relationship where we are the first or second business partner, it is understandable to a certain extent,” said Contreras.
Added to this is the Mexican energy reform proposal, which seeks to strengthen the state-owned Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) to the detriment of the private sector, and has been seen in the United States as a threat to investment and even to the fight against the climate crisis.
In fact, and although it was not originally on the agenda, this issue was discussed at the North American Leaders’ Summit last November.
Additionally, last August, the federal government filed an unprecedented lawsuit against 11 US arms manufacturers in a federal court in that country for their alleged negligence that facilitates illicit trafficking and violence in Mexico.
This issue has not caused so much noise in the United States and for Contreras it does not have to have an impact at the diplomatic level either because Biden is precisely in favor of putting “more locks” on the use of weapons, unlike his Republican predecessor.
Migration crisis: currency of exchange?
Biden came to power with a much more friendly message towards migration and the promise to regularize millions of people.
But reality prevailed with high figures such as the 1.7 million undocumented immigrants identified by the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in fiscal year 2021 and more than 252,000 migrants intercepted between January and November in Mexico.
Leticia Calderón, a doctor in Social Sciences and an expert in migration, said that the “containment” policy has not changed and proof of this is that Mexico has continued to receive returned migrants from the United States.
However, the announcements of investment in Central America by both nations have served to support the Government of López Obrador “in terms of narrative”.
Although all this, he continued, is part of a much more complex “negotiation” between countries and that would include, for example, greater border control in exchange for the millions of anti-COVID vaccines that the United States donated to Mexico in 2021.
In this context, another gesture in favor of Mexico was the signing at the end of the year of the Bicentennial Understanding, a new security alliance that seeks to combat crime with a comprehensive approach and move away from the military strategy of the Mérida Initiative.
What does 2022 hold?
Calderón considered that Mexican immigration policy is going to harden and this is reflected in the recent announcement of mandatory visas for Venezuelan tourists.
While Gustavo López Montiel, an expert in International Relations at the Tecnológico de Monterrey, estimated that, although there is a change of “tone” towards Trump, the problems that most concern Mexico do not coincide with the main concerns of the United States.
“The relationship has not improved in the strict sense, although there has been more interaction with the United States government,” the analyst pointed out.
More optimistic, Contreras assured that Mexico can take advantage of challenges this year such as the “profound confrontation” between the United States and China to position itself at the regional level.
“Although Mexico is not directly an active actor, it can take advantage of these spaces to continue advancing in its leadership in the Latin American region and sell that political capital to the United States,” he concluded.
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