Loaded trucks coming in from Mexico wait in line at the bridge near the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in El Paso. Credit: Julio-César Chávez for the San Antonio Report

The ninth round of NAFTA negotiations kicked off last week in Washington, D.C. in a frantic race against time.

Over the previous eight rounds, the United States, Mexican, and Canadian negotiators have come to agreement on only one-third of the total issues up for debate, without resolutions on some of the thorniest topics, such as labor issues, U.S. proposal for a “sunset clause,” and required regional content in cars and trucks (despite recent concessions from Mexico).

Yet, the time crunch is on. A new agreement needs to be submitted to the U.S. Congress by Thursday if it is going to make it onto the 2018 voting agenda, and there are only six weeks until Mexico’s ?July 1 presidential election. Even if the negotiators can wrap things up at the eleventh hour – which appears unlikely – navigating the politics of passing an agreement will be no easy task, especially given a new administration in Mexico and the potential shake up in the U.S. House of Representatives from this November’s midterm elections.

In the lead up to Mexico’s election, the five presidential candidates’ campaigns are in full swing. During the first debate on April 22, the big topics were security and corruption, with discussions on issues such as granting drug traffickers amnesty, support for an independent Attorney General’s office, and even the colorful but inadvisable proposal from Jaime “El Bronco” Rodríguez to cut off corrupt politicians’ hands.

Following the debate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) held onto his lead with 45 percent of the vote, according to Bloomberg, followed by PAN candidate Ricardo Anaya at 31 percent. The PRI’s presidential candidate José Antonio Meade fell to 18 percent, and the two independent candidates Margarita Zavala and El Bronco remained steady at 3 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.

The second presidential debate will be held ?on Sunday, May 20, and will focus on economic and foreign policy proposals.

As the candidates defend their platforms, the big issues of crime and violence continue unabated across the country. This past month, protests erupted after three film students disappeared near Guadalajara when members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel allegedly mistook them for a rival gang.

Meanwhile, as the political campaigns kick off, candidates have also increasingly found themselves in the crosshairs. Over the last eight months at least 93 political aspirants were murdered across the country, according to a new report by the consultancy Etellekt, and hundreds more received threats.

Regardless of who wins in July, addressing these issues will remain among the most urgent policy challenges on the agenda.

Mexico’s energy industry is often the bright spot in the news, but the uncertainty surrounding presidential front-runner López Obrador’s views on the 2013 energy reform has cast a shadow on the sector. López Obrador’s top advisors have sought to calm investors by promising that energy companies’ contracts will be respected unless they were obtained through corrupt practices.

However, López Obrador has at times promoted more mixed messages, promising that he won’t hand Mexico’s resources over to foreigners and that, upon winning, he would ask President Enrique Peña Nieto to halt the ?September 27 bidding round for onshore conventional and shale fields. This round has a total of 46 areas up for auction and has already garnered the attention of at least 11 energy companies.

The next few weeks are likely to bring a host of major regional news stories, from the future of NAFTA to the final days of the Mexico’s presidential campaigns.

Antonio Garza is with the law firm of White & Case in Mexico City. Garza is a South Texas native who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico from 2002-2009. He is a past chairman of the Texas Railroad...