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Strained US-Mexico relations about to get worse under new president

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Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
Presidential
candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gestures after casting his
ballot at a polling station during the presidential election in
Mexico City, Mexico.

Reuters/Edgard
Garrido


  • US-Mexico relations are at their most strained in
    recent memory — and Mexico’s newly elected president could
    ratchet up the acrimony. 
  • Talks to renegotiate NAFTA are running into a wall as
    the US seeks to negotiate separately with both Mexico and
    Canada.
  • “The strategy looks very fragile to me, and doomed to
    fail,” says Monica de Bolle of the Peterson Institute for
    International Economics. 

Donald Trump’s
aggressive approach
to trade relations is slowly choking
NAFTA, and the prospects for the North American Free Trade
Agreement to survive are becoming increasingly grim. 

Despite recent claims of progress by the various
negotiating parties, the auto sector and so-called rules of
origin, which govern what percentage of a vehicle’s parts must
come from a country before it can be determined to have been
“made” there,
remain a central sticking point.
 Fruit and dairy imports
are another big issue, given farmers remain a powerful political
constituency in all three NAFTA members. 

Trump’s trade team has employed a divide-and-conquer strategy in
their attempts to renegotiate NAFTA, which they argue was
responsible for “stealing” US manufacturing jobs but which in
fact has helped the
US auto sector prosper.
 It has done so by attempting to
negotiate separately with each country. 

“The strategy looks very fragile to me, and doomed to
fail,” Monica de Bolle, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute
for International Economics,
told The Hill.
“It’s hard to see how you can get an agreement
when one of the three countries isn’t in the talks.” 

She added: “It’s likely this whole thing is going to be
revisited, unless the Mexicans conjure up some sort of magic and
get it all done in the next two weeks.” 

It’s hard to overstate Trump’s disdain for Mexico: the man
launched his campaign by promising to build a wall along the
Mexican border, which he would force Mexico to pay for, to
protect innocent Americans from the “rapists”
and “not their best”
people that he accused our southern
neighbor of “sending” over.

Mexico’s own political calendar and looming presidential
handover means the window for sealing a revised trade deal with
the United States is closing quickly — negotiators have until
September at the latest.

Now, relations could be about to take another turn for the worse
when
Mexico’s new leftist president
, Manuel Lopez Obrador, takes
office in December.

In part as a reaction to Trumpism, Mexicans elected the former
mayor of Mexico City on the promise that he would boost the
economy and reduce the country’s rampant drug-related crime.

Shannon O’Neil, senior fellow for Latin American studies at
the Council on Foreign Relations, says “

initial
niceties” between the two leaders “paper over deep chasms in
priorities, positions, and domestic politics” and that a “blow-up
may not be far away.”

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