President Barack Obama traveled to Mexico City on May 2 to meet with new Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in an effort to recast perceptions of the bilateral agenda from security to economic issues. In 2012, for the first time in 12 years, the U.S. and Mexican election cycles coincided, providing an excellent opportunity to coordinate an agenda consistent with the political needs of the new administrations and the economic requirements of their respective countries. An early visit by the U.S. president was an important signal that Mexico’s significant contributions to the health of the U.S. economy can no longer be taken for granted; the bond must be strengthened in order to assure the global competitiveness of both Mexico and the United States.
Mexico is the United States’ third-largest trading partner, after Canada and China, and its second-biggest export market, after Canada. Some $1.4 billion worth of goods crosses the U.S.-Mexico border every day, and an estimated 6 million U.S. jobs depend directly on trade with Mexico. These are big numbers, and they are only going to increase, particularly as Mexico’s economy grows and its middle class expands, increasing its purchasing power.
At the same time, a number of obstacles to growth must be addressed if the bilateral relationship is to reach its full potential. Many of these are domestic issues that each nation should resolve for its own self-interest but that would nonetheless meaningfully improve the bilateral economic relationship. Among these are, from Mexico’s side, reforms in fiscal, energy and competition policy, as well as the continuing implementation of labor and education reforms. Working with Mexico’s other two main political parties, Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) has successfully begun the reform process. But the Mexican president’s honeymoon period is coming to an end, and the most difficult issues remain unresolved.