With NAFTA’s Future Uncertain, Brazil Should Reach Out to Mexico (Americas Quarterly)


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By Oliver Stuenkel



With President Donald Trump threatening to upend the U.S.’ economic relationship with Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto is looking for new friends. The Mexican president may not have given up hope of mending ties with Washington, but Trump’s arrival has given fresh urgency to Mexico’s search for new sources of foreign investment and new trade partners. That has so far meant a particular focus on Europe and Asia; in a sign of things to come, Mexico on Feb. 1 announced a $212 million deal to assemble Chinese cars in the central state of Hidalgo.

But the new reality facing Mexico also offers an opportunity to rethink ties with Brazil and strengthen a bilateral relationship that has long underperformed. Indeed, signs that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is in trouble should encourage Brazil to reach out to Mexico for several reasons: In addition to mutual economic benefits, stronger ties would allow the two to work together on devising strategies to tackle regional challenges such as drug and arms trafficking, migration, climate change and corruption. To date, lackluster bilateral ties between Brazil and Mexico have been among the key obstacles to broader regional cooperation on these issues.

Though they are the two leading economies in Latin America, there is a lot that sets Brazil and Mexico apart. While Mexico has embraced U.S.-led economic globalization wholeheartedly, Brazilian elites remain deeply suspicious of opening up to trade, and Brazil is still one of most protectionist members of the G20, a group of the world’s largest economies. When Mexico joined NAFTA and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a club of democratic market economies, Brazilian observers concluded that Mexico had sold out to the North, essentially giving up its Latin American identity.

By contrast, foreign-policymakers in Brazil have articulated far greater ambitions on the international stage, ranging from U.N. Security Council reform to leading global peacekeeping efforts – moves that some Mexican observers quietly think of as exaggerated and overconfident. Continue reading here.

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Photo credit : Beto Barata/PR (Flickr - Palacio do Planalto)