President Obama has travelled to Mexico to meet with new president Enrique Peña Nieto. Whereas previous meetings between the US and Mexico have mainly focused on security concerns linked to drug trafficking, this meeting is being used to shift the attention to other factors important to the US-Mexico relationship, with a particular focus on economic issues.
The importance of Mexico to the US is great. Mexico is the second-largest export market and third most important trade partner of the United States; so the country’s economic conditions are clearly of vital importance to the US. Trade with Mexico is worth $500 billion per year and accounts for countless jobs in both countries.
Although the meetings will not focus exclusively on violence, this will still be an important issue to be addressed. The previous American and Mexican administrations focused on fighting the drug cartels directly, with Washington providing $1.9 billion in military aid to Mexico under the Merida Initiative signed by George W. Bush.
However, Peña Nieto will focus on fighting violence through economic development rather than through direct aggression against the drug cartels, which causes even more violence. It is expected that the US will now play a much more limited role in Mexican security affairs.
This shift in focus comes at a critical moment for Mexico, which has been experiencing somewhat less economic growth than Latin America as a whole over the past few years. This is likely to change now due to a package of economic reforms that has been passed by the Mexican government.
These include reforms related to bilateral trade and job creation as well as the opening up of the Mexican energy sector to outside investment and improvements in tax collection, especially among the rich. These would allow for general improvement in the Mexican economy, which, given the importance of Mexico to the US, will have an impact north of the border.
Given the strong economic ties between the US and Mexico, it is in the interest of the US for economic conditions to improve. Furthermore, another key issue for the US is related to immigration, with immigration reform being a key issue currently on Obama’s agenda.
Mexicans account for more than half of immigrants who either cross the US border illegally or overstay their visas. Improvements in Mexico with regard to the economy and violence could therefore address the root causes of immigration and be greatly beneficial in decreasing these numbers.
This meeting and the changes in the US-Mexico relationship represent an opportunity for the US to shift its aid spending in Mexico from security towards economic development and poverty reduction. It is clear that an improved Mexican economy is in the interest of the US for several reasons. Let’s hope that both countries can capitalize on this opportunity to work together to create significant improvements in this regard.
– Caroline Poterio Martinez
Sources: LA Times, MercoPress