It is a fact: There is a deep change in the relationship between Mexico and the United States in every way since the arrival of the Donald Trump presidency. This change is a decision by the U.S. executive, without widespread support, though it doesn't prevent him from carrying it out with the support of his followers. The step back is significant on all levels. Since the effective date of NAFTA 24 years ago, the relationship between Mexico and the United States took an important turn commercially and economically. Along with Canada, the three signatory countries were united in the idea that national economies strengthened the regional economy, which would bring a certain interdependence.
The treaty allowed the agreement and the establishment of rules that were respected by the three countries. Republican and Democratic governments in the United States, PRI and PAN* in Mexico and liberals and conservatives in Canada built, sustained and respected the treaty and with it the existing rules. There were even incentives for collaboration between Mexico and the United States in issues such as the border when the U.S. extended its security perimeter to Central America after 9/11. The collaboration, including the U.S., continued for more than two decades, with President Bill Clinton coming to Mexico's rescue in the economic crisis of 1994-1995. It can be said that the relationship got better and that the neighborhood was strengthened. But what looked like immovable regional reality is now wobbling. Trump made decisions opposing NAFTA, with the logic of a grocery store clerk unable to look at the big picture of trade, the economy and the trilateral relationship.
The arrival of Trump opened an anti-Mexican campaign on many fronts. NAFTA was one of the main ones. Deciding to end multilateral agreements, Trump forced the comprehensive negotiation of the trilateral treaty with the goal of ending it, even explicitly, saying that NAFTA was the worst treaty the United States has ever signed. The rounds of negotiations, until now, do not open a clear path out, while the unacceptable demands upon Mexico and Canada intensify.
So today defining a policy in the negotiations on the part of Mexico requires a total review of the policies that Trump has proposed in the Mexican-American bilateral relationship. It requires an understanding that there is no willingness of the parties to approach a negotiation in which everyone wins, and that this is part of a comprehensive policy. How do you negotiate with someone who sees us as the enemy who is responsible for all the social and economic woes of the United States? The first premise of any negotiation is the acknowledgement that all parties are equal: the willingness to listen, to agree and to build bridges between distinct positions. None of this is present in the negotiators who represent Trump. Mexico has demonstrated that it has excellent negotiators. But it is known that there are issues that are unacceptable and won't be negotiated, not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow. There are destroyed bridges and closed roads.
Surely those who lead the negotiations have already created many scenarios, including the most extreme, the end of NAFTA, in which the United States will be harmed and lose many jobs, and in which Mexico will be worse off in the short and medium terms. But if Trump intends to end NAFTA or to turn it into bilateral agreements with Mexico on the one hand and Canada on the other in order to impose the strength of the country with a stronger economy, this is unacceptable. Take into account the position of the chambers of industry and commerce in the three countries, but especially in the U.S., that want to keep NAFTA.
Trump’s policy thoroughly affects the bilateral relationship with his neighbor to the south, which is also the U.S. border with the rest of Latin America. It is evident that the U.S. aims to inflict as much pain as possible upon Mexico. It has developed an anti-Mexican policy that is only comparable to that of U.S. President James Polk, who declared war on Mexico in 1846.
*Editor’s note: PRI and PAN are, respectively, the Institutional Revolutionary Party and the National Action Party of Mexico, two of the principal political parties there.