It’s not just trade. Suddenly the nation is realizing how much of its identity became wrapped up in its neighbor’s power.
Secession was the talk of Mexico’s biggest business summit this week.
Not the latest news from Catalonia, but the idea that Mexico lost its independence and ought to do something about it. An entire national model has been based on catering to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the 23-year-old accord that links commerce between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. There’s regret that not much thought was given to what could go wrong.
A second, related, theme of the conference was regret. Regret that, by assuming that with Nafta everything would take of itself, Mexico had made itself an easy target. Few American politicians pay a price for going after their southern neighbor. “There is a very low cost for bad mouthing Mexico,” Shannon K. O’Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations told an audience. “You have to up the ante and make there be a cost.” If it’s not too late.
A subtext to this was the sense that few in the U.S. realize there is a presidential election in Mexico next year. Populist themes look sure to get a hearing, not least from Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is making another tilt for the top job. (President Enrique Pena Nieto is limited under law to a single term.) All this Mexico-bashing in the U.S. could cause a backlash among Mexican voters.
China is the second-largest trading partner of Mexico after the U.S., but you would never know it. While a lot of the global commentariat was focused on China’s weeklong Communist Party congress, few of Mexico’s elite mentioned it. President Xi Jinping’s assertion that China offered a new model for economic development largely passed the conference by.
It’s all about Nafta, even it’s not about trade and economics. One discussion of foreign policy, part of a panel I moderated, mentioned diversification. Not of business lines and product mix — of foreign policy.
There is a world out there beyond the U.S., tough though that is for Mexico, given it’s next door to its biggest trading partner that happens also be the world’s largest economy and only real military superpower. There was nodding recognition that, sure, diversification might be a good thing. Next panel: Update on Nafta.
Mexico hopes it’s not too late to save the accord. It’s about way more than trade and jobs. A big part of national identity has been outsourced.