By MARK LORENZANA
The bilateral meeting between Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday, Jan. 9, ahead of Tuesday’s North American Leaders’ Summit (NALS) with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, got off with a bit of a rocky start after López Obrador told Biden that the United States government has done little to support Latin America.
“This is the moment for us to determine to do away with this abandonment, this disdain and this forgetfulness for Latin America and the Caribbean,” AMLO said. “This is opposed to the good-neighbor policy of that titan of freedom that was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”
Biden took issue with López Obrador’s statement, and replied — evidently going off script and straying from his prepared remarks — that on the contrary, the United States has spent “tens of billions of dollars in the hemisphere,” over the past 15 years, adding that his government had secured agreements from G-7 countries to support infrastructure projects in Latin America.
“The United States provides more foreign aid than every other country, just about combined, in the world — to not just the hemisphere, but around the world,” Biden told López Obrador. “Unfortunately, our response just doesn’t end in the Western hemisphere: it’s in Central Europe. It’s in Asia. It’s in the Middle East. It’s in Africa. I wish we could just have one focus.”
Later in the meeting, on a more positive note, the two presidents reaffirmed their commitment to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) “as the foundation for North American competitiveness and the basis for economic prosperity and social development.” Mexican Foreign Relations (SRE) Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, however, said on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 10, that the trilateral meeting later in the day would leave out the energy disputes within the USMCA. Ebrard said that since there are ongoing energy consultations requested by the United States with Mexico under the USMCA, these issues need not be discussed during the NALS.
“I would say that the issues that have to do with energy are in a process of dialogue and consultation between the three countries, and are under negotiation,” Ebrard said in an interview with Mexican journalist Ciro Gómez Leyva. “So what we agreed upon among the foreign ministers of the three countries is that we should not turn the summit into a discussion of what we are already on track in the ongoing consultation processes or the ongoing dialogue.”
In the same bilateral meeting on Monday, Biden also reiterated his government’s priority of solving the problem of fentanyl trafficking into the United States.
“As part of shared security, joint action is required to address the fentanyl plague, which has killed more than 100,000 Americans so far, and how we can address irregular migration, and I think that is already very well underway,” Biden said.
Two major talking points in the NALS, as was laid out in a “key deliverables” fact sheet on the White House website, included “boosting semiconductor industries in the three countries,” as well as “working together to achieve safe, orderly and humane migration in the region.”
Mexican daily newspaper Reforma reported that Mexico and the United States will open a migration resource center in the southeast Mexican state of Tapachula, which shares a border with Guatemala. This migrant center — which will provide assistance to people who are looking to cross through Tapachula and on to the United States via legal pathways — will be similar to a center inaugurated in December 2021 in the Guatemalan city of Quetzaltenango, which was funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Population, Refugees and Migration.
On the semiconductor-industries front, the three leaders — Biden, López Obrador and Trudeau — have agreed to commit on building the semiconductor industry in the region.
U.S. officials said semiconductor companies building new manufacturing facilities in the United States are looking into bringing parts of their supply chain to Mexico.
“Nearshoring is a specific consideration because of the trade agreements that are in place. That and the added bonus of lower labor rates … makes Mexico a very attractive option for putting certain parts of the semiconductor supply chain there,” said Scott Jones, who has advised semiconductor companies on setting up potential operations in Latin America, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
Trudeau arrived at the National Palace in Mexico City at 11:41 a.m. on Tuesday, where he was received by AMLO and his wife, Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller. Biden arrived a few minutes later, at 11:56 a.m.
The trilateral meeting officially began at 1:30 p.m. in the National Palace’s reception room — a working lunch that lasted approximately one and a half hours.
On the evening of Monday, after Biden and López Obrador’s bilateral meeting, Trudeau joined the two leaders for a “trilateral dinner” at the palace’s dining room — accompanied by their wives — where they feasted on milpa soup, fish fillet and chocolate-filled tamales.