By RICARDO CASTILLO
At the last minute, the Mexican Chamber of Deputies is scrambling to have ready the final approval of regulations for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that will go into effect on Wednesday, July 1. On Monday, the Federal Gazette published the approval of the agreement by the Mexican Senate.
In the meantime, on Monday, June 29, Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard still hesitated on announcing the date on which President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) will travel to Washington to finally meet President Donald Trump in person: It could be any time now.
During his Monday, June 29, press conference, AMLO talked about the trip but about the only thing he said is that he would travel on public transport along with a limited entourage. Overall, however, AMLO said he is ready to fly.
In the meantime, a myriad of people are warning AMLO on the implicit danger of meeting up with Trump.
One of those concerns is very serious:
Ambassador Emeritus Sepúlveda Amor sent an open letter to Ebrard, offering a long description of the damage this meeting could do Mexico: “It is highly inconvenient to national interest.”
Sepúlveda described in his missive that the worst case scenario would be the fact that Trump is on an election campaign, in which, according to the latest polls, he is trailing Democratic contender Joe Biden by as much as 14 percent.
It seems obvious that Trump wants to use the USMCA activities kickoff to corner AMLO into committing to his incumbent candidacy. This would mean that if Trump loses, AMLO could have four years of opposition from the Democrats.
Sepúlveda’s letter might have been well intended, but let us take into consideration that times have changed since the period of his shift as foreign relations secretary and today.
For instance, one of his great failures was the meeting in 1992 between himself and then-incumbent George Bush, which stalled North American Free Trade Agreement (NATA) negotiations. After Bush lost to Bill Clinton, NAFTA was approved on November 1993 and went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994. The rest in history.
To sum up the long letter, it spells out a potential aftermath disaster provoked by the upcoming summit. Another danger that Sepúlveda found in the meeting was that it is not an official state visit by AMLO as he will not address the U.S. Congress and maybe even not be hosted at the White House as a head of state, only a visitor.
It must be said that these are details professional diplomats usually take good care of, but, let’s face it, neither AMLO nor Trump are diplomatic jewels.
What stands between them now is a year and a half of constant phone negotiations over issues, the toughest, no doubt, being the May 2019 threat by Trump to slap Mexico with a progressive 5 percent monthly countervailing duty increase on exports starting in June and ending in October, for a total of a 25 percent overall export tax hike. That spelled potential disaster for the Mexican economy and collateral damage to the United States, as well, but one thing was certain, “The Don” was going to go ahead with it.
Trump demanded that AMLO stop, on the double, if we can use the military expression, the flow of Central American migrants seeking political refuge in the United States.
AMLO used the only instrument he had, the National Guard, which by then had recruited some 40,000 agents and which was officially going to start operations on June 30, 2019. Activities for the National Guard, however, began two weeks early with the deployment of 27,000 men and women along the approximately 400-kilometer-long border with Guatemala and Belize, stopping the immense human flow of migrant refuges cold in their tracks.
Since then, Trump has been talking wonders about AMLO, and, of course, everyone knows that Mexico did end up financing his wall along Mexico’s southern border.
With this in mind, the fear is that the AMLO-Trump meet could lead, first, to plummeting AMLO’s career into disgrace (much to the applauding joy of conservatives), and, second, it could be bad for the nation, as Sepúlveda – a master diplomat on his own right – warned.
One thing this observer sees is that both presidents are hardened pragmatics and they seem to be getting along fine, with normal differences. The one outstanding fact in their relationship is that at no moment have they traded offenses.
About the worst recent event in the bilateral relationship took place last week when U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau said in a video conference with Mexican industrial and entrepreneurial chambers, “I can’t lie to you; this is not a good moment to invest in Mexico.”
Landau stirred the hornet’s nest. For one, AMLO detractors fully agreed with him, but also, AMLO’s defenders interpreted that Landau had made a softening punch against AMLO so that he would arrive in Washington with humbleness. Fortunately for Landau, he retracted his statement, but the damage – if any – was already done.
The one thing that is evident is that diplomatic relations between Mexico and the United States have somewhat changed because the two presidents have survived the rocky road of 2019 and are carrying out their campaign promises as best as covid-19 weather permits.
Sure, diplomats like the highly respected Sepulveda Amor have concern, especially from an unpredictable Trump.
But the idea is to celebrate this special moment in history, as the second version of the North American Free Trade Agreement goes into effect.
Oh, and one final note: Mexicans might change the unpronounceable name T-MEC to Meusca. After all, that is easier to pronounce.
In any case, this is a reinterpretation of the future of trilateral trade.
…June 30, 2020