In an office decorated with National's baseball team miniature figures inside the iconic Ronald Reagan Building located on Pennsylvania Avenue, Director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Andrew Rudman, sat down with LPO for an exclusive in-person interview.
What is the nature of the US-Mexico relationship right now?
Rudman, a former US diplomat with more than a decade of experience in the State Department said that "I think under the Trump administration, the bilateral relationship was very one note or initially two notes, because it was centered on trade and migration. When the USMCA was finalized, then it was all about migration."
Former President Donald Trump signed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) in January 2020, replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that governed trade between the United States and its neighbors since 1994.
"I think maybe that's the biggest risk right now is that it can't stay just about migration. There are so many other issues that we can and should talk about and cooperate on. So many issues we can't resolve without cooperating with one another," added Rudman.
Headquartered in Washington DC, the Mexico Institute promotes original research, encourages public discussion, and proposes policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship between the neighboring countries.
Having prior experience in the healthcare sector when he worked as Deputy Vice-President for the Western Hemisphere at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Rudman argues that the pandemic "reinforced" the important of trade between the US and Mexico, as it revealed those links to be "destructive and tangible."
"I think the United States, Mexico, and Canada need to take a hard look at what worked and what didn't. So they are better prepared in the future, both on the health side and the economic side."
"The United States impeded American companies from selling PPE to Mexico and Canada. We can't do that. We need to figure out ways to collaborate better on vaccine approvals and have clearer guidelines on when to close the border," he added. "There ought to be a set of criteria so that if you have a business, you know the vaccination rate isn't high enough yet, or the infection rate is too high, or whatever the metric is, there ought to be some process. Businesses want predictability more than anything else."
Do you think President Joe Biden and Mexican President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, have established a good relationship?
"I think the Biden administration is being pretty careful. They clearly were careful not to do anything or at least to try to make sure they weren't doing anything that was going to interfere with the midterm elections in Mexico," Rudman said.
On June 6, Mexico's citizens participated in the largest election in the country's history, in which they chose candidates for over 21,000 offices, including the Chamber of Deputies of the Mexican Congress and 15 of the 32 governorships.
"It seems like maybe the Biden administration is starting to loosen up a little bit. Certainly, the USTR [U.S. Trade Representative], Katherine Tai, has been a little more direct about Mexico's USMCA compliance," said Rudman.
The Mexican government has failed to comply with the new USMCA labor provisions. The US filed two labor complaints in June against companies operating in Mexico over allegations that workers were being denied their labor rights.
Representative Tai has made clear that the Biden administration is committed to enforcing all trade rules to protect the rights of workers and improve worker representation in U.S. trade policy.
"You have a relationship that is so deep and so broad, there's going to be conflict. There's no way not to," Rudman said. "It's a marriage. Married people fight, but it doesn't mean they break up. The argue and have disagreements and we have to address those issues. And then we have to focus."
"There are so many things we need to do together. I think the re-institution of the high-level economic dialogue (DEAN) is a great step in bilateral security cooperation, which is crucially important," he added. "There will be some issues where there's going to be conflict, energy and environment maybe being the most obvious. You have to deal with migration and there are definitely some challenges there."
Additionally, Rudman said that there is considerable potential for the US and Mexico to work together on arms control and combat drug trafficking.
Do you think that the Cuba situation poses a threat to the US-Mexico relationship? Is AMLO purposely trying to contradict and be against the United States?
The former Managing Director at Monarch Global Strategies considers that some of the Cuba rhetoric against the United States is playing to AMLO's electoral base.
"It's a traditional Mexican and Latin American leftist foreign policy to support Cuba and attack the US, almost reflexively. I don't know how seriously the Biden administration will take it," he said. "I think there are certainly some in the Biden administration, if not all, who will understand that some of this is playing to the domestic audience."
"But, when you keep saying things like that, when you defend the Cuban regime, when there are protests in the streets, when you offer asylum to Julian Assange, you're supporting somebody who leaked classified information from the US intelligence community," Rudman added.
"When you talk about restoring relations with North Korea, which is a pariah state, I think it sends a message whether you mean it to, or not, about the unpredictability of Mexico. Because North Korea can't do anything for you."
Last week, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard announced that Mexico is seeking to re-open diplomatic and commercial relationships with North Korea. In September 2017, former President Enrique PeĂ±a Nieto severed diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, declaring North Korean ambassador to Mexico, Kim Hyong Gilm, persona non grata.
Rudman said a possibility exists - even if not being currently discussed - that the US government could eventually pass legislation stating that any country that has normalized relations with North Korea can't trade with the United States.
"Statements that tend to be symbolic in nature can wind up having a real impact that nobody anticipated. Under this scenario, who would guess that a sanction on North Korea in any way would impact trade with Mexico," he said.
"If we go back to what businesses are looking for when they invest, they're looking for certainty and a country that appears to be siding with countries that the US would certainly qualify as state sponsors of terrorism, if not enemies, it is going to cause people to ask, what exactly is he [AMLO] doing?," Rudman added. "And what's the point of all this? What's the end game?"
"Even if the Biden administration gets it, that this is just talk, it makes it harder for Biden to do things with him because Biden's opposition is going to say, why are you cooperating with a government that is pro Cuba and that supports governments like North Korea? They would say he's pro terrorist."
Do you think AMLO is scared that the Biden administration is going to intervene too much in Latin American affairs?
Since taking office, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador vowed to return to Mexico's old foreign policy doctrine -the Estrada Doctrine- which champions non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries. Nonetheless, he has openly supported the Cuban regime and has called on the United States to end the embargo on the island.
On this issue, Rudman said that "AMLO is supporting a government that is definitely a security threat to the United States. So even if Biden gets that, that it's all words, I think it just makes it harder. It limits Biden's ability to work with him. I think you could argue that AMLO's strategy of poking the bear is not the best way to keep somebody out. The best way would be to just shut up."
"I think there are some things about AMLO's foreign policy that could absolutely be helpful, like playing its traditional role of being neutral and host negotiations that lead to peaceful resolutions. That would be a good thing."
Do you think that the Biden administration is going to have tangible results with its immigration policy?
"I sincerely hope so. I think it is a really complicated long-term problem. As I often say, when people decide that walking a thousand miles with or without their families is their best alternative, it's a pretty bad situation. The things they want to do that I assume will propose won't solve the problems tomorrow," Rudman explained.
As the administration faces growing political pressure to address a surge in undocumented immigrants at the US-Mexico border, President Joe Biden appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to lead efforts to stem migration from Central American countries.
"Getting rid of corruption, improving the business climate, improving education, so that Northern Triangle residents have the skills to work for the Fortune 500 companies that have been enticed to invest there, that not a three-month long project," he said. "My concern is that people are going to continue to come as long as making that thousand-mile walk is their best choice."
"There are some things they can do in the short term, like cash transfers, you got to put money in people's pockets. It's why actually I think some of AMLO's proposals, like Sembrando Vida, planting trees in Mexico for three years in return for six months in the US -which parenthetically, I don't think is a fair trade- but I don't think he's not wrong that you need to give people a way to provide for their families in the short term. I think he's not wrong that you've got to do that, it makes sense."
"I think AMLO's diagnoses of problems are usually pretty good. His solutions tend to be, sometimes there's a nugget in there, but the solutions tend to be a little weird."
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