Wednesday, February 19, 2014
While "Tres Amigos" summit in Toluca, Mexico, leftist PRD senators ask Peña Nieto to renegotiate NAFTA
President Barack Obama arrived in Toluca at mid-day for the 2014 version of the North American Leaders' Summit, which happens to mark the 20th anniversary (Jan. 1, 1994) of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Toluca is the capital of the State of Mexico (EDOMEX), where president Enrique Peña Nieto launched his political career and served as governor for five yers (2005-2011) before being being elected the nation's chief executive in 2012. Toluca is but 45 minutes from Mexico City, and EDOMEX - a state long plagued by organized crime and narco violence - may be the safest place in the country today, with local, state and federal security forces well prepared for the big event.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the third member of the Three Friends club, has been in town since yesterday. But Obama's whirlwind tour, from touch down to take off, will have him on the ground for just under nine hours. Excluding ground transit, mandatory welcoming ceremonies, group photos and a late afternoon luncheon, Obama, Harper and Peña Nieto will be together for less than half that time.
The three men have a number of topics on the agenda, but scratching NAFTA and starting over is not one of them. Nonetheless, that's much what senate leaders of Mexico's leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) urged president Peña Nieto to do.
In a formal statement to the press, PRD senator Luis Sánchez Jiménez said that two decades of NAFTA have negatively impacted Mexico's national sovereignty and Mexicans' quality of life, and have placed at risk the country's priceless natural resources, especially its energy industry. The latter was a reference to the PEMEX reforms passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses of the federal congress last December, and ratified by the country's 32 states in record time. What connection recent changes to Mexico's domestic energy policy arguably have to the 20 year old NAFTA will not be clear to many, but in any case Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party have staked everything upon them, politically and otherwise, and there will be no turning back. Obama specifically congratulated Peña Nieto for those reforms during a brief press conference this afternoon.
The economic benefits promised to Mexico under NAFTA never arrived, PRD also contends, and the country has regressed, it claims. Party leaders point out that in the 12 year period between 1970 and 1982, the country's gross domestic product expanded by 6.28%, while in the 30 year period between 1982 and 2012, GDP grew by less than 2.4% (and last year, by a devastatingly poor 1.1%). Those stats raise at least as many questions as they answer, however, since NAFTA did not take effect until the first day of 1994. PRD senators also seem to have forgotten about something called the Great Recession of 2008, the aftershocks of which continue to be felt in this country. Merrill Lynch: weak U.S. demand, domestic insecurity will continue to challenge Mexican economy in 2014.
Nonetheless, in an excellent analysis published today summarizing the findings of a U.S. think tank, Mexico's SinEmbargo.com makes a strong case that "the Mexican people have been the big losers under NAFTA." The article, full of credible comparisons with other Latin American nations, points out that Mexicans rank 18 out of 20 when per capita GDP growth over 20 years is measured against that of their neighbors. The business sector has acknowledged that as well, and expressed concern over it. Sluggish Mexican economy worries foreign investment experts.
Mexico's extremely poor labor market, reported by a federal agency yesterday, also lends credibility to PRD's claims. Mexican economy continues to shed jobs. There is little reason for young workers to be optimistic, no matter their education and trade skills. Mexican unemployment stats paint bleak picture for the most well educated. The economy here plainly is not firing on all cylinders.
Economics aren't PRD's only complaints about NAFTA. The party leadership insists the agreement needs to be redrafted to specifically address human rights issues, migration and the U.S.'s failure to abide by international agreements - and international tribunal orders - dealing with the procedural rights of accused persons. The latter issue set off a wave of protest in Mexico last month when a former Morelos man was executed by Texas in violation of a 2004 International Court of Justice ruling. Condemned Mexican's approaching date with Texas execution chamber poses risks for U.S.
PRD's positions on NAFTA and PEMEX are clear road signs on its plans for the 2018 presidential contest, to which any number of hopefuls are already looking ahead.
Dec. 20, 2013 - Mexican minimum wage in 2014 will be $5 dollars - a day
Feb. 19, 2014 - Obama recognizes Mexico's "enormous sacrifice" in combating organized crime and drug trafficking, and adds, "the U.S. is pledged to reduce the demand for illegal drugs."
Dec. 12, 2013 - Exit Stage Left: PRD says "The Pact for Mexico is dead"
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at 5:44 PM