Top Mexican officials are in D.C. to discuss trade, immigration and security with the Trump administration ahead of Mexican President Peña Nieto’s meeting with Donald Trump next week. The media is flooding with talk of building the wall — el muro — but Mexico’s focus is on the broader implications of the relationship.
Rodolfo Hernández Guerrero, professor of contemporary U.S.-Mexico politics at the University of Texas at Dallas, gave a lecture at the Tower Center Jan. 25 discussing the future of the U.S.-Mexico relationship under President Trump. Here’s a look at what we learned from his talk.
Texas is the Winner of NAFTA
“Who is the big winner of NAFTA?” Hernández asked. “Texas.” According to his presentation, about 380,000 Texas jobs depend on trade with Mexico, and roughly 2 million are trade related. In 2015, Mexico imported $93 billion worth of exports from Texas.
Texan Republicans seem to understand what’s at stake. The Texas Tribune reported that Texan members of Congress don’t agree with Trump’s call to renegotiate the treaty. Rep. Lamar Smith told the Tribune that Texas benefits from deals that make its goods and services available to more people.
Hernández argued that, among other aspects of the deal, the zero-tariff rate will be extremely hard to alter. Renegotiating will likely lead both Mexico and Canada to strengthen deals with countries in Europe and Asia, therefore weakening American influence.
The wall has become a symbol of President Trump’s campaign — his suggested quick fix to border security and the influx of illegal immigrants across the border. Even U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions referred to the border wall as “an analogy.”
When asked about her sentiment toward the idea of a wall, Tower Center Executive Director Luisa del Rosal responded that the focus of the negotiations must be more comprehensive than that. The U.S.-Mexico relationship is too sophisticated to be reduced to an ambitious construction project. Hernández also stressed Mexico’s determination to have a holistic approach to the talks.
However, the question that does need to be answered about el muro is who is going to foot the bill. Trump has insisted Mexico will pay, and Nieto has said no way. The Trump administration’s latest proposal was to cut off the flow of remittances sent from immigrants to their families in Mexico. Mexico receives roughly $24 billion in remittances from the U.S., close to Washington’s estimated cost for the wall, which they put at $25 billion.
“It’s possible,” Hernández said regarding the use of remittances. “But the outcome could cost more.”
The economic impact of a solution like that will be immense in Mexico, he said. It would increase poverty, and as a result, it would increase immigration to the U.S. To offset these outcomes, del Rosal said Mexico must invest in its education.
An Opportunity for Reinvention
Mexico was part of the dialogue in both Hillary Clinton and Trump’s campaign. Being in the spotlight provides Mexico with an opportunity, Hernandez said. They can look inward and make changes to be strategic and to become more independent.
“Ultimately this will create a situation where Mexico will be able to have a more equal relationship with the U.S.,” he said.
One thing Trump and Nieto have in common is their unpopularity in their own countries. According to Real Clear Politics, Trump is viewed favorably on average by around 42 percent , and Nieto’s approval rate hovers between 20-30 percent. Part of Nieto’s unpopularity stems from his handling of Donald Trump. While Trump is hated by most Mexicans, according to Hernández, the political class can’t afford to not like him. They have to be practical.
Popularity is related to legitimacy, Hernández said. It reflects the respect of the people. Nieto needs to remain strong and clear with his objectives next week.
“It’s an opportunity to achieve that popularity,” Hernández said.
Listen to Dr. Rodolfo Hernández Guerrero’s seminar: