The U.S.-Mexico relationship is once again back in the headlines and this time it’s not just changing, it could be completely redefined.
After months of anticipation, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer submitted a two-page letter to Congress on May 18, which announced the Trump administration’s intent to renegotiate NAFTA. The letter spurred the U.S. government into action, triggering the start of a consultation process – where businesses, industry groups, and private citizens can submit comments – and public hearings scheduled for later this summer. By early fall, negotiators from all three countries will begin sitting down together to hash out the details, with the goal of wrapping up the negotiations in early 2018.
To put it simply, reshaping NAFTA – an agreement that underpins more than 1 trillion dollars in trade and that touches every major sector of the three countries’ economies – in only a few months is remarkably ambitious. While Mexican officials would like to end the process before the start of their presidential campaign cycle in early 2018, delays seem not just likely but inevitable. Throughout the process, expect to see a renewed focus on the trilateral relationship, which we are already witnessing through cross-border events and publications, as civil society groups and businesses seek to share their opinions and insert them into the negotiations.
However, while the upcoming NAFTA negotiations might be tough, the even more game-changing process in Mexico is going to be tackling the country’s rule of law challenges. On this front, 2017 has been a grim year, with setbacks for the recent anticorruption reforms, fugitive corrupt governors, and the highest homicide rate for a first-quarter in the last two decades. Among those killed since January were six journalists, a particularly dark stain on an already bleak record. As I wrote for USA Today last week, making improvements in protecting journalists and human rights defenders is not just going to be good policy, it will be the substance of strong leadership and presidential legacy.
Finally, for those of you keeping an eye on Mexican politics, Sunday, June 4 marked the governor races in the State of Mexico, Coahuila, and Nayarit. Of the three, the State of Mexico race was the one to watch, as President Enrique Peña Nieto’s PRI party has not lost the state in a century. Polls ahead of the election showed that PRI candidate Alfredo del Mazo was neck and neck with the leftist Morena candidate Delfina Gómez. Indeed, preliminary results Monday gave del Mazo around 33.7% of the vote, while Gómez received around 30.8%, according to State of Mexico officials. While the PRI’s success at holding the state and Morena’s ability to pull in voters with its anti-corruption, populist message is expected to provide a sneak-peek for next year’s presidential elections, the fact that the race is so close (after the PRI won this governorship by more than 20% in previous years) is already a strong indicator of the state and country’s political mood.