Latin America Advisor

A Daily Publication of The Dialogue

Can Mexico’s New Foreign Minister Work With Trump?

Luis Videgaray resigned as Mexico’s finance minister last year following the backlash over Donald Trump’s visit to Mexico City, but he has now been brought back as foreign minister.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto last week named Luis Videgaray as the country’s foreign minister. Videgaray had resigned as Mexico’s finance minister in September after Peña Nieto faced widespread criticism for meeting with then-U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump in a visit Videgaray was reportedly instrumental in arranging. Why was Videgaray tapped as foreign minister? What kind of relationship will he have with the incoming Trump administration? What characteristics will define Peña Nieto’s foreign policy in the year ahead?

Peter Hakim, member of the Advisor board and president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue: “Luis Videgaray’s resurrection reveals the Mexican government’s concern about Donald Trump and U.S.-Mexican ties. Forced to resign in September for orchestrating Trump’s highly criticized visit to Mexico, Videgaray, now as foreign minister, is charged with managing relations with the United States. It will not be easy. Mexicans mostly loathe the soon-to-be U.S. president for his hateful campaign rhetoric. He tarred Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, called for a border wall and labeled NAFTA, a bulwark of the Mexican economy, as the worst trade accord ever and threatened to rip it up. Trump’s only suggestion of interest in an amiable relationship was his tweet praising Videgaray: ‘With Luis, Mexico and the U.S. could have made wonderful deals together.’ Peña Nieto and his advisors understand the importance of U.S.-Mexican relations and know that Trump’s proposals could play havoc with Mexico’s already distressed economy and troubled politics. They also know that a confrontation with Trump, no matter its appeal to many Mexicans, would be worse. Congressional Republicans and the new administration have made the border wall a top priority. Trump has regularly been threatening to punish corporations for moving production and jobs to Mexico. While he may moderate some of his plans, it is unrealistic and dangerous to believe he will abandon them. No one is sure what it will take to satisfy Trump. To avoid conflict, however, the Mexican government will probably have to take some unpopular steps to respond to his demands, though perhaps gaining some concessions in return. Would Mexico, for example, consider enhancing U.S.-Mexican border cooperation to curb undocumented migration? What about sharing the costs of constructing physical barriers at a few sites? Would the United States agree to tighten controls on weapons exports to Mexico? To develop better approaches to managing labor migration? To protect some categories of undocumented immigrants? Similar questions regarding trade policy need exploration. Can agreement be reached on a revised NAFTA treaty? The Mexican government has made clear its interest in resolving differences with the United States through dialogue and negotiation. The response of Trump and his advisors is awaited.”

James R. Jones, member of the Advisor board, chairman of ManattJones Global Strategies and former U.S. ambassador to Mexico: “Luis Videgaray is a very capable and smart economist and politician. He was probably selected because he is perhaps President Peña Nieto’s most trusted advisor. Nothing is more important to Mexico at present than getting the relationship right with President-elect Trump and his incoming administration. Third-hand reports from both the Videgaray and Trump camps are that the two hit it off well last summer when Trump’s visit to Mexico was arranged. Trump seems to admire people with strong egos, street smarts and grit. Videgaray has those qualities. Although Videgaray said at his appointment that he has no experience in diplomacy and would have to learn on the job, he does know how to construct deals and push them through. That will be his objective as foreign minister. One caveat to watch for: both Trump and Videgaray have strong egos and demand respect. If one of those egos gets bruised, it could disrupt negotiations to the detriment of the United States-Mexico relationship. I don’t expect that to happen and hopefully an even stronger economic and policy relationship between our countries will be the result.”

Juan Carlos Hartasánchez Frenk, senior director at Albright Stonebridge Group: “Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has decided that his country’s foreign relations efforts will be led by a former finance minister who lacks significant diplomatic experience. There are two possible explanations for his decision. The first centers on domestic politics rather than foreign affairs. As foreign minister, Videgaray will have an unprecedented level of exposure and influence, more than any other cabinet member. By placing Videgaray in this role, it’s clear that Peña Nieto is sending his party, the PRI, a strong signal as to whom he plans to back in the 2018 presidential election. We should not be surprised to see Videgaray resign later this year to pursue the PRI’s presidential nomination. The second explanation is the good relationship that Videgaray is said to have with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and his appointed senior advisor. Peña Nieto’s administration expects that these relationships will strengthen the good will between the United States and Mexico. However, it is unrealistic to expect that relations between Mexico and the Trump administration won’t be strained in the coming months as discussions over migration, border security and trade ensue. Peña Nieto’s foreign policy throughout 2017 will focus on limiting U.S. protectionism and providing certainty regarding Mexico-United States trade and investment relations. We should expect to see an increased presence of Mexican officials in Washington D.C. and in key states throughout the United States, promoting Mexico not as part of the problem, but rather as part of the solution. We should also expect Peña Nieto to seek international support from countries and international organizations on key issues (e.g. human rights and the protection of the environment) to counter the United States on some priorities.”

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