July 2016 Monthly Article – Obama and Peña Nieto

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By Jerry Pacheco

On July 22, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. The objective of the meeting was to discuss a variety of subjects including the drug war, water, trade, health, student exchanges, and tourism. Security also was a focus, with both nations committing to a new security system to better share information on travelers who cross into one country from another. Neighbors inevitably have issues that pop up from time to time, but good neighbors get together, communicate, and work them out. This is the relationship that the U.S. and Mexico have had for many years, and this is precisely what the two presidents did at their meeting. However, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall, not to hear the discussion on these important subjects, but to hear any discussion on the U.S. presidential election and what it could mean for both nations in the future.  

The July Obama-Peña Nieto meeting will probably be the last meeting between them as heads of state, as the new U.S. president takes office in January. When this occurs, the U.S.-Mexico relationship will be entering a great unknown. If Republican Donald Trump wins the presidential election, will his tough and vocal rhetoric, in terms of rescinding or rolling back the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), become reality? If Democrat Hillary Clinton wins, will she continue the relationship that her husband Bill Clinton built with Mexico by negotiating and implementing NAFTA, or will she remain cool to the agreement and strengthening the relationship with Mexico because of political pressures within her own party?

I imagine that a good portion of the Obama-Peña Nieto meeting must have focused on the “what if” factors. On the trade front, Obama has been resolute in his support for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade relationship for which NAFTA was implemented among the three partners. Pushing forth trade with Mexico and a free trade agenda such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be major parts of his legacy.

Peña Nieto’s presidential term expires in 2018, so he will have to deal with the new U.S. president for approximately two years. He definitely does not want to end his term on a sour note with his neighbor to the north and subject himself to attacks from political rivals and the nation’s private sector.

The same “what if” conversations have to be occurring in other U.S. allies after Trump surmised that if elected president, he may have to impose some type of ban on countries such as France and Germany – both huge trading partners and allies with the U.S.- because of his viewpoint that they may be “compromised by terrorism,” due to the number of Muslims in these nations. After the U.S. was declared the winner of the Cold War and having capitalism prevail as the preferred economic system by most of the world, the World Trade Organization, which the U.S. supported and encouraged nations to join, is being called a “disaster” by Trump

For her part, Hillary Clinton’s backtracking of free trade also has to raise concerns in allies’ minds about what would happen if she were elected president. It is common during a political campaign to fire up the rhetoric on a controversial subject or to modify a person’s conviction for a particular issue, and then after election move back to a more moderate position in the political spectrum. It is unclear if this will apply to Clinton if elected.

I can’t remember a U.S. presidential election causing so much doubt and consternation throughout the world as the present one. The U.S. has been a bastion of leadership and a calming force to which other nations turn to during world crises – and we certainly have one on our hands with the terrorism that ISIS and mentally unstable people are wreaking upon innocent people in countries throughout the world. To defeat these evil forces, the U.S. and its allies need to cooperate from economic and security standpoints more than ever. Having the U.S. renege on its commitments and move to an isolationist position would create more instability throughout the world.

To remain an economic force in the world, the U.S. needs to develop trading relationships with allies to create jobs at home and to sell American products throughout the world. Through close trading relationships, security and cooperation are fostered. Going the other direction has not worked historically and will not work in the future.