By Julio Espinoza, Staff Writer
As I’ve mentioned before, the relationship with Mexico is vital for some industries and for the middle class of America. About 5 million American jobs depend on trade with Mexico, and millions of American households depend on highly affordable agricultural products from Mexico. By imposing a border tax, the Trump administration will be punishing American consumers by encouraging an increase in the prices of perishable and manufactured goods coming from Mexico. In Mexico City, decision makers are discussing whether NAFTA is still a good deal, and if it would remain a “win-win” deal after a potential renegotiation. MEXIT (Mexico leaving NAFTA) is now on the table for Mexican officials, opinion leaders, and civil society. Clearly, NAFTA has benefited both countries over the last two decades, but bilateral tensions could kill the deal. What are Mexico City and Washington, D.C. doing wrong? And how does this put at risk the peace and prosperity of our countries?
The nature of our political regime (a liberal democracy) is at risk, as well as its system of checks and balances. There is a clear gap between the three federal branches of government. Unfortunately, the White House is the main source of the disagreements. It should be the other way around: the White House should direct the nation towards the achievement of the national interest. How could the proponent of the “Art of the Deal” already have been checked and balanced during his first days in the White House? His Senate confirmations were not pre-negotiated and faced strong opposition and concerns. The Secretary of Education’s confirmation on the Senate floor, for example, required the Vice President’s tie-breaking vote, an unprecedented occurrence. Now the Judiciary is studying the legality of the so-called “Muslim travel ban,” which is itself a contradiction. People who were already cleared and charged for their U.S. immigration permits are now at risk of their revocation. Most importantly, the “Muslim travel ban” goes against our national interests and isolates us from the world that we intend to lead. President Trump’s phone call conversations with foreign dignitaries have not been ideal, according to standardized diplomatic practices, and the leak of information regarding the joke of sending troops to Mexico to combat crime (during the conversation with President Peña of Mexico) shows that the White House is operating without the influence of the Department of State, whose task is to help conduct foreign policy by building consensus and reaching agreements that promote U.S. interest.
According to best practices in international negotiations, before engaging in any negotiation there must be an intent of resolving opposing interests. There are very few opposing interests between the U.S. and Mexico. Maybe the only Mexican concern is the asymmetry of power which leads to American interventionism in Latin America. Besides that, both countries are highly interdependent, and any economic slowdown or political turmoil will have repercussions for both sides. The Trump disagreement is, as he claims, an issue of a surplus of Mexican immigrants taking away American jobs. The claim is false, as the net ratio of Mexican ilegal immigrants has decreased ironically since NAFTA went into force. Furthermore, they are not taking away our jobs. It is our own companies that are eliminating jobs by sourcing from emerging markets like China. Most importantly, most of the massive influx of immigrants crossing to the U.S. are not Mexican, but from Central America and other regions of the world. The Peña administration has expressed its willingness to renegotiate the totality of the U.S.-Mexico relationship to write off any opposing interests. But we remain at a political impasse because our president just put an offer on the table that is unreasonable for the other party (paying for our own infrastructure along our border), and his counteroffer is even worse (imposing taxes on products we need to be affordable and sending troops to south of the border).
Mexico also made mistakes, the most glaring being their eagerness to negotiate with the Trump administration. A few days after President Trump had taken office, President Peña sent his top cabinet members in Foreign Affairs and Trade to renegotiate “the whole enchilada” with the White House, without consulting with the U.S. Department of State and Trade Representative and without lobbying other stakeholders and potentials allies of Mexico, like the U.S. private sector. President Peña rushed into restructuring the premises of the U.S.-Mexico relationship in immigration, security, trade and cooperation (the whole package) a clear example of the mistake of putting all of one’s eggs in one’s basket. He needed to segment negotiation topics and follow a funnel strategy: reaching agreement on less contentious topics first and leaving to the end the most contentious issues. Also, President Peña might be depending on the special relationship between his Minister of Foreign Affairs (Luis Videgaray) and the son-in-law of President Trump (Jared Kushner). But while building confidence between negotiators is highly recommended for achieving a successful outcome, President Peña just skipped the whole apparatus and expertise of the U.S. Department of State, diminishing his own margin of maneuver. President Peña got ambushed and now, in order to not lose face, he needs to stand up, which again decreases the Zone of Potential Agreement between both countries. President Peña could have negotiated the Mexican way: avoiding and postponing to the very end any high-level talks, Ambassador and President level talks, with the Trump Administration and delaying indefinitely the appointment of a Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. But eager to come to terms, Peña rushed into an ambush.
So far U.S. foreign policy has followed the guidance of short- and middle-term interests, or maybe the impulses of President Trump, who has raised the stakes so high that reaching a reasonable win-win agreement will be hard. When nation-states reach agreements, they codify them in international treaties or accords that remain rock solid for centuries, as long as the agreement still makes sense and is legitimate. NAFTA makes sense and has been good for both parties. Why would a good negotiator put at risk the foreign policy assets of our country? For President Trump, how much is the peace and stability in our neighborhood worth? For us it is priceless. Again, if someone in the White House is reading, please pass a note to our president saying that a country is not a company and that nation-states are not one-time business partners. Nation-states are actors that remain for centuries, and negotiations are long-term contracts that must be legitimate enough to remain valid for as long as possible. Mr. President, we are the USA, not the USA, Inc. Don’t run our country as you ran your companies, because that could lead us to a huge disaster.