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...

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AS/COA Online | The Tequila-Caipirinha Axis: Rousseff Visits Mexico

When Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff paid a visit to her Mexican counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto this week, the two signed agreements at a time when their countries’ economies could each use a leg up. Rousseff, president of Latin America’s biggest economy, headed to Mexico, the region’s second largest, for her first state visit with her homologue there, as well as the country’s Congress. In an interview with Mexican daily La Jornada ahead of her Monday departure, Rousseff said the trip “opens a new chapter in our relations” that could give rise to a “tequila-caipirinha axis.” Meanwhile, Brazilian outlet Folha de São Paulo interviewed Peña Nieto via email; the Mexican head of state, like Rousseff, forecast commercial and investment agreements during the meetings. Accords would build on March’s crucial automotive deal that, according to Peña Nieto, accounts for 46 percent of bilateral transactions. 

A visit in challenging times

The heads of state of the two Latin America giants came together at a moment that’s not without its economic challenges. International Monetary Fund (IMF) projections indicate that Brazil’s economy could shrink by 1 percent in 2015. Unemployment was up in the first quarter of the year and, through the first week of May, year-on-year daily trade rates were down 16 percent.

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AS/COA Online | Xi's Trip to Mexico: Sino-Mexican Relations Revisited

Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Mexico this week as part of the leader’s four-country visit to the Americas. Official Chinese news outlet Xinhua reports bilateral relations “have enjoyed sound development since the two countries established diplomatic ties 41 years ago.” But a look back at Sino-Mexican relations shows a path not without its share of potholes, worsened by Mexico’s growing trade deficit with China, among other reasons. Now six months in office, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is taking steps to warm up the relationship. With new leaders in both countries—Peña Nieto’s December 2012 inauguration took place within a month of Xi’s ascension as head of the Communist Party—Beijing appears receptive to Mexico’s advances, especially given the possibility of a Mexican energy reform.

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AS/COA Online | Interview: El Salvador's Ambassador to the U.S. Rubén Zamora

“[W]e have started what we call the two-track policy—continuing with the fight against crime in the country by stage agencies, but at the same time, town by town, trying to develop conditions for preventing violence and reintegrating those people into society in a productive way.”

Appointed last month as the new Salvadoran ambassador in Washington, Rubén Zamora spoke with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis about the evolution of U.S.-Central American security policy in light of President Barack Obama’s recent trip to the region, saying: “Now the Obama administration is moving towards a more comprehensive approach, using the mantra, I would say, of partnership.” The ambassador also gave an overview of the Salvadoran government’s local strategies to drive down crime, as well as how to leverage initiatives such as the Partnership for Growth and CAFTA-DR. With a political career dating back to 1970, Zamora served twice as a legislative deputy in El Salvador’s National Assembly, was a member of the country’s Peace Commission, and ran, in 1994, as the first presidential candidate of the left’s coalition after the 1992 Peace Accords. More recently, he held the post of ambassador to India.

AS/COA Online: In light of U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent meeting with leaders in Costa Rica, including with President of El Salvador Mauricio Funes, what were some of the accomplishments? And what more do you think should have been done?

Ambassador Zamora: For us, the meeting between President Obama and the seven Central American and Caribbean head of states was important because we learned about U.S. foreign policy on Central America. The discussion was very frank among the presidents and it was clear for us—and this seems to me an important achievement—that President Obama clearly was for a more integrated approach to the question of security. That was one of the main issues in the talks among the heads of states. We had mostly been used to the United States insisting more and more on the question of controlling crime; that is necessary, but is very insufficient to achieve results. Now, it seems to me, Washington is having a more comprehensive, holistic approach to the problem that we are facing in Central America, both in terms of the crime and in terms of Central America being a region through which South American drugs travel to the United States.

AS/COA Online: In connection with that, I wanted to ask about CARSI [Central America Regional Security Initiative]. In March, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William R. Brownfield gave remarks at our organization, and he said: “What we are doing today is actually very different from what we thought we were going to be doing four years ago.” What do you think needs to happen to improve security cooperation on a regional level? And how would you suggest that CARSI could evolve further?

Zamora: The starting point now is that the best strategic view when it comes to security in Central America, especially in the northern part—that means Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—is that you have to attack the problem with a two or three-track policy. You cannot do it just with a single line of policy, or the tactic of controlling crime without addressing the question of the rehabilitation of gang members into mainstream society...

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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 - Washington Steps up Talk on Passing Trade Pacts

Could trade deals with Colombia and Panama see action from the U.S. Congress along with the South Korea pact? Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner gave one of the strongest indications yet that the Obama administration wants all three free-trade agreements (FTAs) passed this year during yesterday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing. “They're overwhelmingly in our favor economically and if we don't do it, what it means is that business just goes to other countries,” said Geithner. “So we need to find a way to pass them.” For more than three years, the deals have been gathering dust while awaiting congressional approval. But President Barack Obama’s job creation push coupled with pressure from key Republican legislators to pass the FTAs could help usher the deals through U.S. Congress within the coming months.

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AS/COA Online - On APEC's Sidelines: Chile, Peru Move on Asian FTAs

President Barack Obama may have fallen short last week when it came to sealing a trade deal with South Korea, but his Peruvian counterpart pulled off a trade pact with Seoul. Just after the Asia-Pacific Cooperation (APEC) summit in Japan, Presidents Alan García and Lee Myung-bak signed an agreement slated to take effect next year. The movement on that trade deal came on the heels of García concluding negotiations on another pact with Japan. But Peru wasn’t the only country deepening Asia ties on the sidelines of the APEC summit: Chile signed a deal with Malaysia and announced the start of trade negotiations with Thailand while President Felipe Calderón of Mexico focused his meetings with Asia-Pacific leaders on upcoming climate change talks in Cancun.

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AS/COA Online - Exclusive Interview: Governor Bill Richardson on Washington's Latin American Ties

“It’s not going to be easy, but I believe we need that comprehensive immigration bill more than anything or the country is going to be torn apart.”


Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) spoke with AS/COA Online Managing Editor Carin Zissis about Washington’s Latin American ties, saying, “It’s our own region and if I might say so, we’ve kind of neglected it in a bipartisan way.” The former U.S. ambassador to the UN discussed the need for a hemispheric accord on transnational crime as well as the shifting U.S.-Cuban relationship, which he called “the best that I’ve seen in a long time.” But he cautioned that movement on trade deals and immigration reform may have to wait until next year. “What you will see if there isn’t bipartisan, comprehensive [immigration] reform is more patchwork laws like Arizona’s, which are not just unconstitutional—they’re very discriminatory, they’re divisive,” he said. He added: “They hurt our foreign policy relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean.”

AS/COA Online: To start off, I’d like to talk about Mexico. The Obama administration has referred to a “shared responsibility” in the fight against organized crime in Mexico. As a border-state governor who also has a personal connection to Mexico, if you had to name one area for the U.S. to prioritize in its policy toward Mexico’s security situation, what would it be?

Gov. Richardson: It would be in the area of more shared intelligence with Mexico, and secondly, more cooperation in the area of restricting automatic weapons going into Mexico—a cooperative effort that I believe can be improved. On the issue of shared intelligence, it’s going to mean our joint security operations not just having more opportunities to do training and law enforcement activities. I support the Merida Initiative’s plan makes of additional helicopters. But we have to more effectively share intelligence, especially on the Mexican side.

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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 - Latin America Strikes Trade Deals at APEC Summit

Co-authored with Michal Toiba. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) celebrates its twentieth birthday this week when its 21 members come together in Singapore. Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama, who currently have observer status, hope to join the other countries in the Americas—Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and the United States—that currently have APEC membership. On the forum’s sidelines, Latin American countries are scoring bilateral trade deals to boost trans-Pacific ties. “Asia's increasing demand for resources and commodities has natural synergies with Latin America's energy and commodities producers,” said Singapore's senior trade minister S. Iswaran at a finance meeting that was part of the summit.
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AS/COA Online | James Bacchus Urges Obama to Work with Trade Partners in the Americas

“[Obama] needs to explain to the American people that trade is an indispensable part of any economic recovery we hope to have.”
In an exclusive interview with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis, former U.S. Representative James Bacchus (D-FL) discusses AS/COA’s new Trade Advisory Group report and the need for the Obama administration “to come forward with some evidence that the United States is willing to work on a hemispheric basis.” Bacchus, who is a leader of Greenberg Traurig’s worldwide practice, served on the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization. He urges approval of pending trade agreements with Panama and Colombia.
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CFR.org | China Policy: Protectionism in the Wind

The United States reached minor economic agreements with Beijing during talks in Washington this week, yet failed to secure a deal (AP) for significant Chinese currency reform. Delegates from the two countries met for the biannual Strategic Economic Dialogue, which serves as chance for discussion between two of the world’s largest economies. Although envoys reached pacts on energy, the environment, and opening Chinese markets to U.S. financial institutions, the currency issue could trouble U.S.-China economic relations. In advance of the talks, a bipartisan group of forty-two lawmakers urged the Bush administration to investigate whether Beijing manipulates the value of the yuan, keeping it priced low against the dollar to boost Chinese exports. They charge this practice exacerbates (Reuters) the U.S. trade deficit, which hit a record high of roughly $233 billion last year.

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CFR.org | A New China Approach

Washington’s decision to eschew soft diplomacy with China for a more assertive stance on economic relations appeared to threaten U.S.-Chinese relations. On April 9, the United States sued China (NPR) in the World Trade Organization (WTO) court over Beijing’s failure to address intellectual property rights and open its market to American DVDs, books, and movies. China’s Ministry of Commerce responded, saying the U.S. complaints would “seriously damage” (FT) bilateral ties.

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CFR.org | On Trade, A Superpower Summit

A high-profile delegation led by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, five other cabinet members, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke applied for trade relief in Beijing this week, a stark reminder for Americans of how the world has changed. Along with the Sino-U.S. trade imbalance, talks tackled China’s undervalued currency, intellectual property rights, and American hopes of opening up (China Daily) the Chinese market to foreign investors. The first semiannual Sino-U.S. economic summit was part of the “strategic economic dialogue” launched by Presidents Bush and Hu Jintao in September. Writing in the Washington Post, Paulson called the summit a “pivotal moment for China and for our relationship with that country.” But the trip yielded few signs of concrete progress. China agreed to allow the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq open offices in Beijing, but there was no agreement on letting the yuan appreciate. "We have a point of view that there's more risk in going too slowly than there is in going too fast, and the Chinese see that differently," (Reuters) Paulson said at the summit's close. This CFR.org Backgrounder examines the major issues—trade imbalance, currency concerns, protectionism, and intellectual property—dogging the Sino-U.S. economic relationship.

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CFR.org | Backgrounder: The Surging Vietnamese Economy

More than three decades after a communist offensive reunified Vietnam, the party’s hold on power and civil society remains unchallenged. But twenty years of liberal economic reforms have brought sweeping changes and foreign investment to a nation characterized by increasing industrialization and a reduction in poverty. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is poised to become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in November. Despite improved relations with the United States since the two countries normalized relations during theClinton administration, a holdup in the U.S. Congress could stall Hanoi’s full accession into the WTO.

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CFR.org | The Vietnamese Boom

More than three decades after the fall of the U.S. backed South Vietnamese government in Saigon, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is experiencing an economic boom, and is poised to become the 150th member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Last year China was the only Asian country to surpass Vietnam in terms of GDP growth (NYT). This new Backgrounder takes a look at Vietnam’s startling economic expansion.

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