When President Obama and Mexico’s President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto meet in Washington on Tuesday, their talks will highlight the critical relationship between our two nations.
Today many businessmen and investors are increasingly bullish on Mexico. The potential for positive developments in Mexico, The Economist and others argue, are too easily overlooked in the U.S.
Writing in The Washington Post, Peña Nieto claimed that it is “a mistake to limit our bilateral relationship to drugs and security concerns.” He emphasized that Mexico is both a growing market for U.S. exports and a manufacturing platform that is both competitive and proximate.
Major hurdles stand in the way. Mexico has a serious image problem. Mainstream media has focused largely on violence in Mexico, helping create a skewed view of Mexico’s achievements, such as its increasing status as a “middle class society.”
From crime and rural underdevelopment to poverty reduction, Mexico faces numerous structural challenges. It awaits the birth of an education reform movement. And many justifiably fear a return of the failed statist policies of Peña Nieto’s Revolutionary Institutional Party.
While illegal immigration from Mexico may be on the decline, the southwest border is far from secure, and more needs to be done—both north and south—to speed legal travel and commerce while blocking illegal movements of people, drugs, money, and guns.
Peña Nieto takes office on December 1. His to-do list continues to lengthen. He should champion economic growth while fostering greater economic freedom, deliver genuine citizen security, wage war on an endemic culture of corruption, and open doors for serious energy reforms to attract much-needed foreign investment.
As for President Obama, it is time to move beyond feel-good electoral politics to real problem solving to address thorny issues such as immigration reform, reducing U.S. drug demand, and preventing another law enforcement breakdown such as Operation Fast and Furious.
Peña Nieto is clearly signaling that he intends to pay serious attention to Mexico’s relations with the U.S. It remains to be seen if Obama II is prepared to devote the time, energy, and political capital needed to reciprocate and build a relationship on the solid pillars of rule of law, greater economic opportunity, and shared security.