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Mexico’s coming test

This micro-column was written by an outside contributor. It was first published on Dec. 2 in Flagship, our daily newsletter that distills what’s happening in the world into a concise, insightful morning read.

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Arturo Sarukhan is the former Ambassador of Mexico to the U.S.

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Julian Lopez / Eyepix Group via Reuters Connect

As both Mexico and the United States head towards presidential elections in 2024, ties between them face a severe test, limited by a lack of strategic alignment and appetite, particularly in Mexico City, and Washington’s fixation on ensuring Mexican support for stemming migration flows.

Moreover, Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador alienated Democratic lawmakers by visiting with Donald Trump on the eve of the 2020 elections to celebrate the entry into force of the USMCA, the North American trade deal, but ignoring Democrats who were fundamental in securing its congressional passage, and by refusing to acknowledge Joe Biden’s 2020 victory until he had no choice but to.

Both governments are now sparring over Mexico’s domestic policies on public security, energy, and climate change. Lopez Obrador’s lack of full-throated condemnation of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and his boycott of the U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas threw another spanner in the works, while his attacks on U.S. legislators have only increased in recent months.

The sacking of top Mexican trade officials amid crucial USMCA energy consultations sets off further alarm bells. Lopez Obrador has whittled away government checks and balances, and steadily eroded the power of autonomous bodies — the regulators, institutions, and bureaucracies that ensure the country doesn’t run afoul of bilateral commitments or trade agreements.

None of this bodes well for Mexican compliance with USMCA, or for the deal’s first congressional review — or for Mexico’s ties with the U.S. and its key role as Washington strategically shifts its economic and trade ties with China.

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