Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations

Congress has maintained significant interest in neighboring Mexico, an ally and top trade partner. President Enrique Peña Nieto of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) assumed the Mexican presidency on December 1, 2012, after 12 years of rule by the conservative National Action Party (PAN). Peña Nieto shepherded structural reforms through the Mexican Congress during his first year in office, but he has since struggled to implement some of those reforms and to address human rights abuses, corruption, and impunity. Some of Mexico’s domestic challenges have been exacerbated by uncertainty about the future of its relations with the United States.

President Peña Nieto has made high-level Cabinet changes and prioritized anticorruption efforts, partially in response to his low approval ratings and his party’s weak performance in June 2016 gubernatorial elections. Ongoing protests against education reforms by teachers’ unions turned deadly in June 2016 as protestors and police clashed. Low oil prices have prompted the state-owned oil company to record significant losses. Problems in the energy sector, as well as global uncertainty, have contributed to the depreciation of Mexico’s currency and led to budget cuts. A successful bidding round for Mexico’s deepwater fields held in December 2016 bodes well for the future of the 2013-2014 energy reforms. The successful June 2016 adoption of a new accusatorial criminal justice system has been overshadowed by rising homicides. The government has been unable to resolve high-profile human rights cases, such as the case of 43 students who were forcibly abducted and murdered in Guerrero in September 2014.

U.S. Policy

U.S.-Mexican relations have remained strong despite periodic tensions and the emergence of immigration and trade as divisive issues in the U.S. elections. Both countries have prioritized bolstering economic ties, modernizing the border, and promoting educational exchanges through High-Level Economic Dialogues among Cabinet officials started in 2013. Those issues also figured prominently during the June 2016 North American Leaders Summit hosted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a July 2016 White House meeting between Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto. Bilateral energy cooperation in hydrocarbons and renewables has accelerated. Security cooperation has continued under the framework of the Mérida Initiative, a foreign aid program for which Congress has provided some $2.6 billion since FY2008. Mexico has stepped up efforts to stop migrants attempting to transit through its territory to the United States.

Bilateral relations could change as a new U.S. Administration takes office in January 2017. During the campaign, President-elect Donald J. Trump discussed renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), fortifying the southwestern border, and increasing deportations. President Peña Nieto has congratulated President-elect Trump and said that he will seek a pragmatic relationship with the United States that advances the interests of both countries.

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