The United States and Mexico in the Trump Era

Irene Estefania Gonzalez / Inter-American Dialogue

On February 6, the Inter-American Dialogue, in partnership with Tulane University and Colegio de Mexico, hosted an all-day conference on US-México relations. This forum convened academic and policy experts from both countries to discuss the challenges and dynamics underpinning economic, migration, and security policies in the Trump administration.


Michael Shifter (Inter-American Dialogue), Carla Hills (former US trade representative), and Arturo Sarukhan (former Mexican ambassador to the US) offered their opening remarks on the current state of US-Mexico relations.

The speakers emphasized that bilateral relations extend beyond the politics of immigration or economics, but include academic and cultural exchanges among individuals and non-governmental organizations. Despite the harsh rhetoric from the current administration, relations are under strain but not eroding. Hills and Sarukhan cited cross-border interagency cooperation, access to White House officials, and the renegotiation of NAFTA as points where the relationship remains strong. The uncertainty lies in how these dynamics could change under the current US president or his future Mexican counterpart.

Session I: The Road Ahead for NAFTA

The first panel moderated by Nora Lustig (Tulane University; Inter-American Dialogue) featured panelists Gary Gereffi (Duke University), Doug Nelson (Tulane University), and Luis de la Calle (De la Calle, Madrazo, Mancera) who highlighted the political and economic realities that may be distorted by the public debate on NAFTA.

The US and Mexico have become deeply integrated in their supply chains in key industries, such as the automotive sector. Industries in which Mexico did not have a comparative advantage, like dairy or bread, have surprisingly expanded in cross-border markets. Panelists acknowledged that these linkages have brought economic benefits and further regional integration. But, domestic welfare policies have not adequately mitigated the dislocations that trade liberalization wrought.

While renegotiating trade deals were at the center of candidate-Trump’s rhetoric, de la Calle argued that NAFTA will not be a salient issue for Mexico’s presidential election unless national dignity is threatened.

Session II: Migration Dynamics and Policy under Trump

Moderated by the president of El Colegio de México, Silvia Giorguli, the “Migration Dynamics and Policy under Trump” panel discussion was an analysis of migration data and statistics in the context of the current political environment in the United States.

The first panelist to speak was Fransisco Alba – a professor in the Center for Demographic, Urban, and Environmental Studies in El Colegio de México – who outlined key points on migration politics for both Mexico and the US and its future implications. Marc Rosenblum, the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Immigration Statistics in the US Department of Homeland Security, presented the preliminary 2017 legal migration data that reflects a change in the quantity and demographics of migrants entering the US from the southern border. The president of the Migration Policy Institute, Andrew Selee, discussed the two-way flow of migrants from Mexico into the United States as well as Americans migrating to Mexico.

Panelists expressed concern over the recent political rhetoric surrounding US immigration. They believe the rhetoric does not accurately reflect the true nature of migration. Data and research has shown, for example, that Mexican immigrants no longer make up the majority of U.S.-Mexico border crossings. The motivations for these border crossings have changed as well.

The panelists agreed that both countries are overwhelmed with the immigration issue. Future solutions must therefore come from mutual reevaluation and realignment of their shared priorities.

Lunch Conversation: Anticipating the Mexican Presidential Elections

Jean François Prud’homme, from El Colegio de México, and Jesus Silva-Herzog Marquez, from the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, discussed the dynamics and challenges Mexican presidential candidates will face in this year’s presidential election.

Marquez pointed out that the three major candidates Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (Morena), Ricardo Anaya (PAN), and Jose Antonio Meade (PRI) are all leading electoral coalitions which are ideologically amorphous. Independent candidates, like Margarita Zavala, have failed to gain a sizeable constituency and presence in the media. Meade’s continued descent in polls demonstrates that he has been unable to establish a competitive candidacy despite the support of the PRI’s electoral machine.  In Marquez’s view, the general election will inevitably come down to Lopez Obrador and Anaya.

Marquez stressed that regardless of who wins the elections in July, these coalitions will likely disintegrate. Governing challenges will certainly arise if the legislative and executive branches are in opposition, threatening continued gridlock.

Session III: The Future of Security and Border Cooperation

The forum’s final panel moderated by Francisco Gonzalez (Johns Hopkins SAIS) featured panelists Eric Olson (Mexico Institute, Wilson Center), Celia Toro (El Colegio de México), and Kevin Casas-Zamora (Inter-American Dialogue).

In their individual remarks, the panelists agreed that while bilateral security cooperation is strong, the security of Mexicans continues to deteriorate. Olson and Casas identified Mexico’s inability to restore local governance as a major weakness in the security program. Toro further added that Mexico’s operations on the Central American border demonstrate that their security concerns are extending south. The major risk for this security relationship is the abandonment of the underpinning principle which has been institutionalized beyond the Merida Initiative.

The panelists agreed that the principle of “shared responsibility” framework is ideal while the ongoing strategy may be ineffective. Olson noted that the Trump administration is emphasizing interdiction as the main approach against drug cartels. The challenge is whether any emphasis will be placed on long-term solutions as well. Panelists conceded that despite the strong relationship, there is not much progress to show for it.

Press Coverage by Voice of America: TLCAN frente a elecciones en México

Watch the full recording of this event here

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