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Analysis | North America’s ‘Three Amigos’ Are Fake


Some see Tuesday’s North American summit as an opportunity to develop a regional strategy for an era of new challenges, from economics and geopolitics to climate.

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sees an opportunity to sell the little-used airport he built north of Mexico City.

“Out of friendship and diplomacy, we ask that his plane land at AIFA,” López Obrador said at one of his regular morning press conferences. Otherwise, “our conservative opponents would use that to say that Felipe Angeles airport is not reliable, that even President Biden did not accept coming there.”

The ambition speaks to what the top is unlikely to offer: grand strategy.

Biden and López Obrador may claim to have lofty goals. But because they are preoccupied with domestic political agendas, they have little time to achieve them. They have to score points. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can wax on the “electric vehicle supply chain” and enjoy the weather.

Aside from airports, Biden is definitely the more needy of the two. The administration is bracing for new attacks on its immigration policy from the new Republican majority in the House, including potential impeachment proceedings against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Not only must the US president provide a solution to a chaotic border crossing by asylum seekers and other potential immigrants from all over America and beyond. He must also address the public health crisis caused by fentanyl, which has been overwhelmingly smuggled out of Mexico and has killed more than 100,000 Americans by overdose in 2021.

Last Thursday, the White House announced a new package of border enforcement measures. Notably, it includes help from AMLO, which apparently agreed to broaden an earlier deal for Mexico to include Venezuelans rejected by the United States to include Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans.

Biden may need more, though: Mexico will take in up to 30,000 potential immigrants a month, according to the announcement. In November (stats for December are not yet known), border guards encountered nearly 90,000 potential immigrants from these countries hoping to enter the United States.

There are other Mexican-made pebbles in Biden’s shoe. They include AMLO’s protectionist energy policies, which the United States and Canada say violate non-discrimination obligations in the USMCA, the trade agreement that binds the three North American countries. They include AMLO’s decision to phase out imports of genetically modified corn and the herbicide glyphosate, likely starting in January 2025 — a move that may violate the USMCA and deprive Midwestern corn growers of a top export market.

Relatively speaking, Lopez Obrador is pretty fit. He still enjoys robust popularity ratings. Chances are he can install his preferred successor in the presidency when his term ends in October 2024.

In recent weeks, he has expressed grand but implausible thoughts about the future of North America: ending imports and making North America self-sufficient in everything it consumes, opening the USMCA to all countries in the hemisphere, and integration into embracing the style of the European Union with supranational government institutions.

They come alongside letters of friendship to the US president, confusingly leavened with the standard anti-gringo fare that always works well in Mexico’s peanut gallery.

AMLO rebuked Biden for welcoming Volodymir Zelensky to “America,” a term that really encompasses the entire continent. After the Peruvian Congress removed President Pedro Castillo from office last month, he demanded that the US stop tampering with Peru’s sovereignty. (This came just as Castillo’s replacement, Dilma Boluarte, accused AMLO of tampering with Peru’s sovereignty and expelled the Mexican ambassador to Lima.)

However, for all the blah-blah, AMLO also has real immediate concerns. He too needs Biden’s help, or at least his leniency.

The United States has downplayed its complaint against Mexico’s new energy policy and refrained from opening legal proceedings under the terms of the regional trade pact. But the White House is under pressure from energy and agricultural interests that have significant political clout; it won’t be able to hold back forever.

What’s more, for all its popularity, AMLO has taken some political beatings recently. His attempt last month for a constitutional amendment to upend the system that oversees Mexico’s elections failed. And more recently lost his candidate to head the Supreme Court. The winner appears eager to press charges that the president’s energy policies violate the Mexican constitution.

As reluctant as he takes it, Lopez Obrador could use a little Biden love.

In what some observers see as an effort to settle the energy dispute, AMLO has touted a grand plan with the US to produce lithium, electric vehicles and solar energy in the northern Mexican state of Sonora, in part to serve the semiconductor manufacturers that serve Washington. plans to head to Arizona, just across the border.

Ahead of Biden’s visit, Mexican authorities on Thursday arrested the son of imprisoned drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, allegedly a major fentanyl trafficker, sparking violence in the state of Sinaloa. (Guzmán junior had previously been arrested, in October 2019, but he was released on orders from Lopez Obrador, ostensibly to end the violence the arrest sparked.)

Perhaps everyone – AMLO, Biden, Trudeau – agree on North America’s need for a strategy to respond to a changing world. AMLO certainly understands that Mexico’s future prosperity depends on its economic relationship with the United States, which today buys more than three-quarters of its exports. Biden understands how important Mexico is as a supplier of energy and cheap labor to his plan to rein in globalization and bring manufacturing closer to home.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Minister of Commerce Gina Raimondo went to Mexico to promote the opportunities that the CHIPS law offers there. Climate Czar John Kerry has been to Sonora. There are agreements about making vital regional supply chains in the region resilient and things like that. And this top offers even more of the same.

However, this week’s meetings will mostly be about treading carefully. Everyone will be satisfied when they are over and no one has suffered political damage. And – good news – AMLO can boast that both Biden and Trudeau will land at its new airport.

More from Bloomberg’s opinion:

• Mexican Faustian border deal with the US will unravel: Eduardo Porter

• More soldiers won’t quell Mexico’s rampant violence: Shannon O’Neil

• Now it’s time for a deal on the dreamers: editors

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This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Eduardo Porter is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist on Latin America, US economic policy and immigration. He is the author of “American Poison: How Racial Hostility Destroyed Our Promise” and “The Price of Everything: Finding Method in the Madness of What Things Cost.”

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion

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