This Thursday’s meeting in Washington is further proof of the new harmony between the US and Mexican administrations. The so-called High-Level Economic Dialogue (DEAN), which includes the presence of several secretaries (ministers) in addition to the respective foreign ministries and the US vice presidency, had not occurred since 2016, before the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House. A recent direct conversion between Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Joe Biden resurrected this political negotiation table whose main objective is to function as a parallel bridge to the technical meetings for the follow-up of the Free Trade Agreement (T-MEC). The change of tone in the bilateral relationship is perceived even in language. Faced with the confrontation and threats that marked the previous stage, the titles of the negotiating blocks are now as eloquent as “Building together” or “Investing in our people,” according to a statement from the White House on the meeting.
Beyond the staging of a new cordiality, on the agenda there are thorny issues such as the reopening by land of the border, which has been closed for more than a year except for residents or special cases due to the Covid-19 crisis. An insistent demand from the Mexican delegation during the last bilateral meetings. “The strategic objective is to accelerate investments, economic movement and well-being. We are going to deal with issues such as infrastructure on the border. We have to make sure that the difference between one side and the other is closed and the transit of commerce and people can be facilitated, ”Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard acknowledged this Wednesday from Washington.
The modernization of the border is one of the pending issues since the last meetings of this type between Barack Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto. Already then there was talk of a joint public and private plan aimed at speeding up commercial crossings. The former head of the Mexican technical team for negotiating the North American treaty, Kenneth Smith Ramos, explains to EL PAÍS that “these types of meetings serve to shore up what has already been established in the T-MEC on reducing bureaucracy through investment in technology and improvement of customs and the rest of logistics ”.
The so-called southern border, between Mexico and Guatemala, will be another focus of the negotiation in a context of strong growth in the flow of migrants and after the recent court ruling that again forces asylum seekers in the United States to wait for a response in Mexican border cities. Ebrard stressed this Wednesday on the joint plan to address the structural causes of migration in the countries of origin: “There must be investments so that people do not migrate for reasons of poverty and security.”
From the first diplomatic meetings, Vice President Kamala Harris has made clear the will of the United States to work “bilaterally” with Mexico and “multilaterally” with the rest of the affected countries to try to solve the reasons for migration from Central America. Washington has decided to promote a plan to invest up to 4,000 million in four years in the region, but at the same time it has warned that the financing is subject to the fight against corruption.
“For the first time there is a decided bet in this regard. For years the US was asked to lead a kind of stabilization funds similar to those of the European Union to help the region ”, celebrates Smith Ramos. The Mexican proposal, on which López Obrador influenced during the last meeting in May, is the extension of some of its social programs in neighboring countries to the south. A plan that in turn involves the integration of the other great Mexican commitment, the cooperation and development project announced in 2019 and sponsored by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
Going down more to the concrete, Ebrard has placed among the priorities “the electric mobility of the automotive industry in Mexico.” Another complement to the T-MEC guidelines, which seek to strengthen value chains in North America by promoting regional production centers, especially in key sectors such as automotive. However, this great economic lever has serious open fronts between the two countries. At the end of August, Mexico managed to get the Canadian government to join its request to review the interpretation of rules of origin for US car producers. Earlier, in May, the commerce secretariat denounced labor abuses and violations of workers’ rights at two US plants based in Guanajuato and Tamaulipas.
The conflict is already in the hands of one of the resolution mechanisms established by the T-MEC and threatens to open a waterway in the bilateral relationship. “The solution of the case will set the tone for the development of the treaty. If an agreement is reached before the panel fails, that will be good news. If more complaints from the US unions continue to come in, it can get complicated, ”anticipates the former head of the Mexican technical team for negotiating the treaty.
Subscribe here to newsletter of EL PAÍS México and receive all the informative keys of the current situation of this country