Mexico breathed a collective sigh of relief after President Donald Trump’s decision to temporarily rescind his threats to impose tariffs on important products from Mexico. However, don’t get too excited, Trump will be back.
The self-imposed international isolation of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has left Mexico in a weak position against Trump’s threats which, as his reelection campaign starts, could encourage Trump to intensify his offensive against Mexico.
It is undeniable that Trump’s threats to impose tariffs of up to 25% on Mexican products is one of the stupidest and most counterproductive strategies to combat illegal immigration.
These tariffs could wipe out hundreds of thousands of jobs on both sides of the border. They could increase the price of cars and electric appliances, as well as the level of illegal immigration in the U.S., while also increasing the level of unemployment in Mexico.
However, Trump’s motivation is not economic, but political. Attacking Mexico was the main selling point of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and is shaping up to be a key point in his 2020 campaign. All populist leaders need an enemy, real or fabricated, to galvanize their supporters, and Trump is no exception.
What is more difficult to understand is Lopez Obrador’s defensive strategy. Instead of forming alliances with Europe, China and other victims of Trump’s antiquated economic nationalism, Lopez Obrador has instead isolated Mexico from the international diplomatic community.
When Lopez Obrador was elected in 2018, Trump had been in office for more than a year, and it was no secret that Mexico would continue to be his favorite villain.
However, in the six months since taking office, Lopez Obrador, who does not speak any foreign language and has never shown much interest in international affairs, has not made a single foreign visit. Neither did he visit any other countries during the six months before he took office.
In comparison, practically all of his recent predecessors have visited various countries both before and after being elected.
What is worse, Lopez Obrador announced last week that he would not attend the Group of 20 summit of leading rich and developing nations on June 28 in Osaka, Japan. It is a meeting attended by representatives of some of the biggest economies of world, including Trump, and the presidents of China, Russia and leading European countries.
Lopez Obrador also does not plan to attend the meeting of the General Council of the World Trade Organization on June 23 in Geneva, Switzerland, which would be another ideal forum to forge alliances and defend free trade.
Similarly, Lopez Obrador has reduced activism in international forums, or has withdrawn from them and proclaimed his government to be “neutral” in key issues like the crisis in Venezuela.
Before Lopez Obrador came to power, Mexico was one the most active members of the Lima Group, a regional group consisting of members from the largest democracies in Latin America such as Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, and which has as its objective the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.
Since Lopez Obrador assumed office, however, Mexico has stopped attending the majority of Lima Group meetings. In the same fashion, Mexico has also stopped participating in meetings of the International Contact Group, led by European countries like Spain, Germany and the U.K., and which was also set up to find a solution to the tragedy in Venezuela.
In other words, Lopez Obrador has diminished Mexico’s presence in the most prevalent forums trying to resolve the worst humanitarian crisis in Latin America, and when a country is not on the field, it is not in the game.
For the good of Mexico, and the U.S., Lopez Obrador should make sure that Mexico returns to the world stage, and that it begins to attend key world summits and builds ties with Republican and Democratic leaders from the U.S. so together it can send a clear message that Trump cannot stop illegal migration by imposing tariffs which increase poverty.
On the contrary, Lopez Obrador should be preaching all over the world that the United States and Mexico need more commercial and economic integration, not less, as this will benefit everyone.