- - Thursday, September 1, 2016


Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s invitation to the two American candidates for president to visit Mexico illustrates not only his interest in the American election, but his interest in how to use the expanding role of Mexico in domestic American politics.

Not so long ago Mexican politicians preferred to ignore the humiliation of exporting their countrymen to the United States because they couldn’t make a living in Mexico, but lately these politicians have come to see the growing size and activism of Hispanics, particularly Hispanics of the Mexican persuasion, as a negotiating tool in its complicated relationship with the United States. Mexico has always resented the lopsided relationship: “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States.”

Of last year’s trade with Mexico, which came to $583.6 billion, exports to the United States were worth $267.2 billion; imports, $316.4 billion. The goods and services came to a trade deficit for Mexico of almost $50 billion.

This third largest foreign source of American trade is underpinned by the large American-Mexican population of 33 million, or 10 percent of the population of the United States. A third of those 33 million were born in Mexico.

With its own population tripling in a half century to 135 million in 2012, Mexico’s longtime monopoly ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, has always regarded emigration to the United States as its escape valve. Still a largely subsistence agriculture economy, with crippling left-wing ideological modifications introduced in the 1930s, Mexico has never provided enough jobs. The PRI has done everything it could to push migrants over the border while all but denying their existence, but warmly welcoming remittances of their pay back to relatives who were left behind. Donald Trump says he would block this $23 billion dollar source of income, but has not said how.

Mexico’s population control policies, and the inevitable fall in birthrate with rising living standards, has reduced somewhat the pressure to push more Mexicans out to the north. Even though the birthrate was cut by two thirds with half the population under 25, there’s a labor surplus that exports to the United States cannot absorb.

Mr. Trump’s swift acceptance of Mr. Pena Nieto’s invitation to Mexico demonstrated that he obviously saw it as another opportunity, whatever the outcome of his discussions with the Mexican president, as another clever exploitation of the media. Hillary Clinton’s delayed response was perhaps an omen for how she will perform in the coming crucial debates.

Mr. Trump promises to impose restrictions on exports of multinational companies fleeing south of the border, enabling them to pay lower wages and other operating costs. That would call for a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and perhaps negotiation of a new treaty to bring in temporary contract agricultural workers. This could satisfy the agricultural-industrial demand for cheap, easily abused labor.

Whatever the outcome of Mr. Trump’s brief conversations in Mexico City — and they are likely to lead only to more ultimately meaningless generalities — he scored points against Hillary Clinton, hence the hysteria on the liberal left. Mr. Pena Nieto made his point, too, that American politicians can no longer ignore Mexican politics.

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