Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Edward Alden is filling in for Kimberly Ann Elliott.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador went to Washington last week to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump and celebrate this month’s official launch of the updated and rebranded North American Free Trade Agreement, now the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. Critics of Lopez Obrador, including former Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan, called the visit “a colossal error, electorally, diplomatically and strategically.” His supporters said Mexico has little choice but to curry favor with Trump despite the insults he has hurled at the country and his determination to build a wall across the southern border. In the face of unrelenting pressure from Trump, AMLO—as Lopez Obrador is popularly known—has protected his country from a crippling trade war by backing away from his own pledges to take on Trump, and even deploying Mexican troops to the border to crack down on Central American asylum-seekers.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau skipped the trip, citing “scheduling conflicts.” Canadian leaders rarely miss the opportunity to advance their country’s interests in Washington, but public opinion left him little choice. His government has closed its border since March to nearly all Americans in order to keep out the threat of exploding numbers of COVID-19 infections. Crossings at the U.S.-Canada land border are down 98 percent from a year ago. More than 80 percent of Canadians want to keep it that way, despite billions of dollars in lost revenues from U.S. tourists and business travelers who are no longer going north.