Mexico navigated through its busiest week of the summer, and no, we’re not talking about tequila-thirsty tourists packing the beaches on the Mayan Riviera. More than the volume of the events, what was telling was how much they related to Mexico’s shifting relationship with the United States, including a State of the Union address heavy with subtle digs at the neighbor to the north—or rather its president.
From September 1 to 5, Mexico hosted the second round of negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). According to the Mexican Ministry of Economy, intended to be discussed at the 25 roundtables were the trade bloc’s regulations concerning investment, rules of origin, digital commerce, transparency and anticorruption—among others. Unfortunately, the closed-door bilateral and trilateral meetings meant that we don’t know what came out of the discussions.
Nevertheless, at a joint press conference on the afternoon of September 5th, Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland described the meeting as successful. Freeland highlighted the elimination of visa requirements for Mexican tourists as a signal of continued partnership. And Lighthizer reported mutual agreement on a dozen chapters of the agreement—but without providing specifics. Canada will host the third round of NAFTA negotiations from September 23-27 in Ottawa. Rules of origin, chapter 19 and low Mexican wages are expected to continue as contention points between the three countries.
And, of course, there was DACA. While the second round of NAFTA talks was wrapping up, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the U.S. government would rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in six months. As reported by Global Americans earlier, the program—which will be phased out by March 5, 2018—will, unless Congress passes a law to maintain it, deprive 800,000 DREAMERS from a chance to continue their lives at home in the United States.
Against this backdrop of anti-NAFTA bluster, wall-rage and anti-immigrant reversals, Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto took the unprecedented step of repeatedly referring to the U.S. president and his policies in his 5th State of the Union address on September 2nd. President Peña Nieto expressed “recognition, admiration and solidarity without reservations” to young DACA recipients, most of whom are of Mexican origin. Messages such as “Mexico will not accept anything that goes against our dignity as a nation” were also not-so-subtle digs at Trump. Addressing other Latin American and European economic partners, Peña Nieto affirmed Mexico’s position as a key actor in the region that seeks to build prosperity, not through a single relation, but on diverse, mutually beneficial relations. And Peña Nieto reaffirmed the country’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement and his instruction to execute NAFTA talks in good faith putting Mexico’s interests on the table—a pointed contrast to the globally unpopular unilateralism of the northern president.
In a reference to upcoming federal elections in 2018, Peña Nieto concluded his remarks urging the public to “continue down the path of trade and economic liberalization” and avoid “going backwards.” It was another hinted message, this time towards leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leading candidate in the 2018 presidential run, though also relevant—again—to the current occupant of the White House.
But Peña Nieto delivered his most important message far from the podium. Amid NAFTA talks, President Peña Nieto traveled to China to join other leaders at the BRICS 2017 Summit. Peña Nieto met with Chinese President Xi Jinping—apparently to discuss trade and investment—and with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mexico’s reaching out to Asia to expand its trade base can be translated as a clear message to the U.S.: Yes, you may be our most important partner, but you are not the only one.
September promises to be a busy month as tasks keep piling up on Mexico’s agenda. The National Electoral Institute (INE) has officially set September 8, 2017 as the starting date of next year’s federal election process. Political parties will start preparations towards the July 2018 race, where Mexicans will choose a new president, 128 senators and 500 deputies.
And next week, the Mexican Congress will host one of the most controversial discussions of the year, to choose the country’s first independent Prosecutor General. A reform, approved in 2014, transformed the Attorney General’s office into an autonomous body (Fiscalía General de la República), selected solely by the Federal Congress for a nine-year term. Mexican legislators and civil society groups are pushing to replace the current occupant of the office—a holdover from the old system—Raul Cervantes, a prominent member of the president’s inner circle, to place a more independent public servant in charge of overseeing the implementation of the National Anti-Corruption System (SNA).
What is clear from this busy week is how closely Mexico is tied to the United States, whether through its citizens—and their children—living on the other side of the border, its economy or its geography. What is also clear, is the fact that Mexico is willing to speak up and isn’t sitting around waiting, dependent on the United States and its irascible president. All in all, a great way to lead up to celebrating Mexico’s 207th Independence next September 15.