AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: What to Watch in NAFTA Negotiations

Within days of the first round of North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations in August, President Donald Trump was once again threatening to withdraw the United States from the 23-year-old pact. But, aside from comments at a rally or some Sunday-morning tweets, can the president actually do that?

Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, argues that, yes, he can—and that’s what he might do if his administration can’t secure the kinds of concessions he needs from Mexico and Canada to claim a political win. Leaving the deal, a move only 6 percent of Americans support, would come at a cost, though. “There will be a huge backlash if he terminates, both by the business community, which is benefiting, and workers who will discover that they were benefiting from NAFTA,” Hufbauer told AS/COA Online Editor-in-Chief Carin Zissis.

Still, Hufbauer suggests there is a good likelihood that the three countries will “muddle through” the talks, making minor concessions that might not leave any of the three parties satisfied but giving the appearance of a political win for all. One reason it will be hard to do much more is that both Mexico and the United States hold elections next year, meaning the talks can’t go much past January. “This notion of this five-month quickie is pretty optimistic,” said Hufbauer, who adds there’s a chance that provisional agreements will be made this year and then new rounds will commence in 2019, after elections conclude.

There will be a huge backlash if [Trump] terminates.

Setting aside political wrangling, negotiators will have to sit down and work out the technical details. Given that the United States will likely be looking for changes reflecting a “Buy American” protectionist streak, Mexico could find itself facing tough decisions over how to handle U.S. demands to trim a $64 billion trade deficit.

Hufbauer outlines what Mexico’s steps might be as the country prepares to host the second round of talks from September 1 to 5.

This podcast was produced by Luisa Leme.

World Politics Review | Fear of the Unknown as Mexico Awaits the Trump Era

Summary: On the morning after the U.S. election, the front pages of Mexican dailies responded to Donald Trump’s win with shock, and those fears aren’t unfounded. While it’s uncertain whether Trump will make good on his campaign promises, Mexico—and the U.S.—should brace themselves for the economic fallout.

MEXICO CITY — On the morning after the U.S. election, the front pages of Mexican dailies responded to Donald Trump’s win with shock. Given that Mexico found itself in Trump’s crosshairs throughout the race, Mexicans’ fears aren’t unfounded. But the U.S. president-elect might not be able to make good on every threat he made on the campaign trail. 

Consider the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Trump will face plenty of challenges to building the infamous wall that was a centerpiece of his candidacy. First off, physical obstacles abound, including the Algodones Sand Dunes in southern California; the Coronado National Forest in Arizona and New Mexico, home to 9,000-foot mountains; and, not least, the Rio Grande. Next are the legal barriers: Roughly two-thirds of the border area is private- or state-owned. Then there’s the price tag, which could be as high as $25 billion, and which the Mexican government says it won’t cover, despite Trump’s campaign assertions that he would go so far as to block remittances unless it does. That’s no small threat. Mexican immigrants sent over $20 billion home in the first nine months of 2016 alone. 

Read the full text of the article at World Politics Review or via AS/COA Online

World Politics Review | The Trump Effect: Why Mexico's Image Problem Spells Trouble for the U.S.

Summary: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has derided Mexico and Mexicans since his campaign began. His proposals are unfeasible and ignore the reality of robust and vital bilateral ties. For its part, Mexico has challenges that undermine its international image, but that's not the whole picture. 

During a June 30 campaign stop in New Hampshire, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump pointed to a plane flying overhead and quipped that it could be a Mexican aircraft “getting ready to attack.”

It’s not a small thing for the potential future U.S. president to casually suggest that neighboring Mexico is planning to launch an assault, given the close historical, security and commercial ties between the two countries. A third of U.S. territory used to belong to Mexico. Americans travel to Mexico more than any other foreign destination, and over twice as much as they do to Canada. Bilateral trade has hit more than $1.4 billion a day. The 2,000-mile border between the two is the world’s busiest, with 350 million people crossing—legally—each year. Even with that volume of people, there has not been one documented case of a terrorist getting into the United States from Mexico...

Read the full text of the essay at World Politics Review or via AS/COA Online

AS/COA Online - U.S.-Mexican Summit Surveys Next Steps on Security

Co-authored with Roque Planas.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosts her Mexican counterpart Patricia Espinosa on April 29 in a summit focusing on bilateral cooperation to combat organized crime. It counts as the third by the Merida Initiative High-Level Consultative Group, but the first since a diplomatic hiccup set off by a leaked cable in which the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual questioned the efficacy of the Mexican government’s struggle against cartels. Close to the time that Pascual resigned in March, news came to light of a U.S. operation called “Fast and Furious” that aimed to take down cartels by tracking guns smuggled into Mexico. The only problem was that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives lost track of some of those weapons, raising questions about the hands the guns fell into at a time when Mexico faces a brutal drug war that has claimed over 37,000 lives. Now newly leaked cables indicate Mexico may have to look to its southern border as well to stem the illicit influx of weapons, with signs that guns may be flowing in from Central America.

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AS/COA Online - First Stop Brasilia: Obama Arrives in South America

While Air Force One carried President Barack Obama to Brazil this morning, the White House released his weekly address, making the case for how economic ties with Latin America can help the United States get a leg up on job creation. “[W]hat is clear is that in an increasingly global economy, our partnership with these nations is only going to become more vital,” said the president. The two South American countries he’s visiting—Brazil and Chile—purchase enough U.S. exports to support 320,000 jobs in the United States, he noted. His remarks echoed his USA Today op-ed from a day earlier in which he estimated that exports to Latin America “will soon support more than 2 million jobs here in the United States.” In a sign of this goal, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Brazilian Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota inked a pact to create a bilateral commission focused on eliminating tariffs and trade barriers. 

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AS/COA Online - GOP Senators Threaten to Block Commerce Nominee over Stalled FTAs

Senate Republicans ratcheted up pressure for passage of Colombia and Panama trade pacts this week with a letter warning they would potentially filibuster a commerce secretary appointment. In a March 14 letter delivered to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the 44 GOP legislators wrote: “Until the president submits both agreements to Congress for approval and commits to signing implementing legislation into law, we will use all the tools at our disposal to force action, including withholding support for any nominee for commerce secretary and any trade-related nominees.” With U.S. President Barack Obama naming Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as the new ambassador to China, the White House will announce an appointee to head the Commerce Department to replace him. That nominee could face a challenge gaining approval if the Obama administration chooses not to seek approval of the Colombia and Panama deals at the same time as a South Korea deal.

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AS/COA Online | Clinton Signals U.S. Support during Mexico Visit

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a one-day stop in Mexico for a bilateral tête-à-tête with Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa in the colonial city of Guanajuato before a visit to the capital to meet with President Felipe Calderón. The two secretaries broached a range of topics—from climate change to Haiti to economic ties—during their reunion. But Clinton’s praise for the Calderón government’s war against drug cartels arguably attracted the largest amount of press hits.

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AS/COA Online | Sec. Clinton Lays out U.S.-LatAm Policy in Andean Tour

Updated June 10 - With the 40th OAS General Assembly hosted by Peru this week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Latin America and Caribbean for the seventh time since joining the Obama cabinet. The summit marked nearly a year since the overthrow of then-Honduran President Manuel Zelaya as well as continued disagreement between members over whether the Central American country should be brought back into the OAS fold. Clinton not only urged for Honduras’ readmission, but petitioned OAS members for support on sanctions against Iran over that country’s nuclear policy. In a trip that takes the secretary to Ecuador, Colombia, and Barbados, she delivered remarks in Quito outlining the shared U.S.-Latin American responsibility too reduce social inequality in the region.

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AS/COA Online | Security and Immigration Frame Calderón's DC Visit

President of Mexico Felipe Calderón pays a visit to Washington this week amid ongoing drug-war worries and rising U.S. tensions over immigration. In his first state visit to Washington since his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama took office, Calderón will also address a joint session of Congress. He is expected to stress bilateral responsibility in combating organized crime and cartel-related bloodshed in Mexico. But controversy over Arizona’s passage of immigration legislation SB1070 has pushed immigration higher up Calderón’s agenda as well. Moreover, with Mexico’s financial health tied to that of its northern neighbor, the visit will also focus on bilateral trade and economic cooperation, particularly a dispute over a cross-border trucking plan.

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AS/COA Online | Sec. Gates Tours Region to Boost Security Ties

The Obama administration sought to bolster security ties with Latin American and Caribbean allies this week when U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates traveled to Peru, Colombia, and Barbados. Before kicking off his tour in Lima, Gates and Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim met at the Pentagon on April 12 and signed the two countries’ first bilateral defense pact since 1977. Gates’ hemispheric tour focused on military ties and antinarcotics efforts. But the defense secretary also took the opportunity while in Bogota to voice support for the long-stalled U.S.-Colombia trade pact. 

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AS/COA Online | U.S.-Brazil Military Pact on the Horizon

The United States and Brazil could ink their first defense pact in decades as early as April 12. Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim made note of the bilateral deal during April 7 remarks to his country’s foreign relations committee in the lower house of Congress. BBC Brasil reported Jobim will travel to Washington Monday to sign the deal alongside U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Earlier in the week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, while on an official stop in Ecuador, referenced the cooperation pact, revealed few details, and noted it needed to be finalized. The negotiations come at a time of bumps in bilateral relations caused by Brazil’s reluctance to back new UN sanctions on Iran as well as the likelihood that it will purchase French fighter jets over American ones. 

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AS/COA Online | Obama Condemns Cuba's "Clenched Fist"

The White House took a break from rallies for health care reform this week to issue a condemnation of human rights conditions in Cuba. U.S. President Barack Obama called the death of a hunger striker and repression of human rights activists as “deeply disturbing” in a March 24 statement. “These events underscore that instead of embracing an opportunity to enter a new era, Cuban authorities continue to respond to the aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist,” he added. The president’s words—perhaps his harshest criticism of the Cuban government since taking office—come during a time of protests in Havana and Miami over recent attempts to silence a dissident group known as Las Damas de Blanco, or the Ladies in White. 

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AS/COA Online | Brazil Raises Stakes over U.S. Cotton Subsidies

Brasilia took a simmering trade dispute with Washington a step further this week when it announced intentions of suspending a number of U.S. patents and copyrights. The measure builds on a March 8 decision to impose tariffs on over a 100 American goods unless the United States abides by a World Trade Organization ruling that deems illegal Washington’s $3-billion subsidies on cotton. The United States has until April 7 to find a solution before Brazil’s multimillion-dollar retaliations take effect.

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AS/COA Online - Exclusive Interview: General Fraser on Security in the Americas

“Our efforts are always focused on supporting the government, wherever the crisis happens.”

General Douglas M. Fraser, Commander of U.S. Southern Command, spoke with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis about supporting relief efforts in Chile and Haiti, the fight against illicit trafficking, Iran’s growing ties with Latin America, and weapons modernization in the Andes.

AS/COA: The Americas obviously experienced two massive earthquakes since the beginning of the year, first in Haiti and now in Chile. In each case, what are the top challenges in terms of operational responses from a U.S. perspective?

Gen. Fraser: I think there are a couple things to keep in mind. One is that every situation is different and every situation is unique, so you have to understand the situation as it exists. And getting accurate information early—and comprehensive information—is always a challenge. Our efforts are always focused on supporting the government, wherever the crisis happens. So we look to support the government and work at what they need, when they say they need it. That’s very much what we see happening in Chile.

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AS/COA Online | Secretary Clinton's Latin American Tour

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tours Latin America this week for a journey that takes her through the Southern Cone, Brazil, and Central America. Though hers is a trip through the Americas, it involves Middle East policy. “I’m on my way to Latin America next week. And Iran is at the top of my agenda,” said Clinton in February 24 testimony at a Senate Appropriation Committee, hinting at concern over Brazil’s deepening ties with Iran. But that was before an 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck Chile, one of the stops on the secretary’s trip. Her trip runs from February 28 through March 5 and she travels to Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.

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AS/COA Online | After the Earthquake: Healing Haiti

L.A. County Fire Department and Rescue team in Port-au-Prince. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Stumberg)In the week since a massive earthquake devastated Haiti, the world has been gripped by tragic news of chaos and death as well as hopeful rescue stories. Donors desperate to support relief efforts text and twitter information and ways to help. Even as a tense delay in food distribution continues while troops and aid workers arrive on the ground, questions arise over Haiti’s future—and who should help the country recover.

For those who have lost everything, help cannot come soon enough,” wrote UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon in an article penned after he visited Haiti over the weekend. On January 19, the UN Security Council backed his motion to send 3,500 additional UN peacekeepers to Haiti in the wake of the disaster, augmenting the 7,000-strong MINUSTAH forces already on the ground. Brazil has largest number of soldiers among the UN forces and will contribute to the increase by doubling its more than 1,250 troops there. Washington plans to bolster military forces by sending 10,000 U.S. troops within weeks.

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AS/COA Online - Honduras Deal Flounders

A week ago, a U.S.-brokered deal was hailed as a “breakthrough” for its potential to conclude a four-month-old tug-of-war for the country’s presidency. But today—the morning after de facto leader Roberto Micheletti announced the formation of a unity government without the ousted Manuel Zelaya—the deposed president declared the accord “dead.” Meanwhile, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee member James DeMint (R-SC), who opposed the White House’s Honduras policy, lifted a hold on the nominations of Arturo Valenzuela for assistant secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs and Thomas Shannon as U.S. ambassador to Brazil.
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AS/COA Online | An End to the Honduran Waiting Game?

With a delegation from Washington in Tegucigalpa to push for an end to Honduras’ ongoing political stalemate, negotiators reached a power-sharing agreement late Thursday. The pact, termed a “breakthrough” by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, allows for a “reconciliation and unity government.” The accord also lays a path for answering the sticky question of whether deposed leader President Manuel Zelaya will regain office. Approval of the deal could build international support for recognizing the November 29 elections.

With less than a month to go before those elections, the pact allows the Honduran Congress to vote on Zelaya’s reinstatement—a proposal the deposed leader’s negotiators previously put forth. Following news of the October 29 agreement, Zelaya said he was “optimistic I will be restored to the presidency.” The accord’s provisions call on both sides to recognize election results and the subsequent power transfer, ask the international community for normalized relations, reject amnesty for political crimes, and require creation of a truth commission to investigate events leading up to and following the June 28 coup.
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AS/COA Online | Honduran Impasse Stirs up Differences in Washington

More than two weeks after a surprise return to Honduras, deposed leader Manuela Zelaya remains confined in the Brazilian Embassy. A much-maligned emergency decree declared by interim leader Roberto Micheletti came and went, and the stand-off continues. While tensions simmer between Hondurans for and against Zelaya, Democrat and Republican lawmakers are locked in their own tit-for-tat over the U.S. role in Tegucigalpa standoff. An Organization of American States (OAS) delegation arrives in Honduras on October 7 to mediate in the three-month-old dispute over who should govern the country, raising questions about whether this group of mediators can succeed where other have failed.

In a dispatch, Reuters photojournalist Edgard Garrido describes the current scene inside the embassy compound, where he is confined with Zelaya supporters, a handful of journalists, and the ousted leader. The unlikely residents face food shortages, tear-gas fears, and concerns about what comes next. “With both sides so far apart, it's not at all clear when there will be an end to the crisis, or my unusual and uncomfortable assignment,” writes Garrido, who snapped a widely circulated photograph of Zelaya napping on an embassy sofa.
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AS/COA Online | Counting the Costs of the Honduran Coup

The Honduran de facto government found itself even more isolated September 3 when Washington terminated over $30 million in aid to the Central American country. The State Department had temporarily suspended aid after the June 28 coup when the military forced President Manuel Zelaya out of the country. The agency’s decision came as the deposed leader met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington last week to make his case for stepped-up pressure on the interim government, headed by Roberto Micheletti. In return, the State Department announced not only the end of non-humanitarian aid, but also that it would revoke visas for some members of Micheletti’s regime and refuse to recognize upcoming elections if carried out by the de facto government.
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