The relationship between the United States and Mexico is at a historic low. Months of threats and Mexico bashing by President Donald Trump have left our neighbors to the south with a mixture of anger, resentment and anxiety.
The rhetoric has created a breach that threatens to become a profound chasm. We need to remember that while Mexico needs the U.S., we also need Mexico, and Texas especially needs Mexico.
Allowing our relations with Mexico to go off the rails will cost us U.S. economic and security interests. Any student of contemporary economics knows that the U.S. and Mexican economies are deeply intertwined.
Worried about deficits? We have significantly higher trade deficits with Germany and Japan than we do with Mexico and, of course, China represents the mother of all trade deficits at six times what we have with our southern neighbor.
Worried about jobs? The employment of 5 million to 6 million Americans is directly tied to trade with Mexico. Are we well served by picking a fight with Mexico? No, we are not.
Texans, in particular, have a great deal at stake. Mexico is by far the most important trading partner to the state, with an estimated $92.5 billion worth of goods exported to Mexico per year and more than 460,000 Texas jobs dependent on trade. Rapid recent expansion of energy-related collaborations will only make this relationship more important to the Texas economy.
American security is also at stake because it partly depends on Mexican stability. The relationship between American and Mexican military and intelligence agencies is the closest it has ever been.
When people on American watch lists arrive at Mexican airports, Mexico reports their presence to U.S authorities. Mexico has also begun interdicting immigrants from Central America’s strife-torn countries at its southern border, reducing the numbers reaching our border.
The stability of Mexico is itself a security issue for the U.S. A destabilized U.S.-Mexico relationship would affect immigration and represent a significant increased security threat.
Similarly, if “the wall” is built, with all of its charged symbolism, most of it will be built in Texas given that two-thirds of the border lies within Texas. This, along with the unraveling of U.S.-Mexico trade agreements, will directly affect Mexico’s economy, in turn affecting the number of Mexicans seeking to find work here.
In the wake of Trump’s words about NAFTA, some Mexican analysts are calling for their own government to abandon the trade agreement. This would open the door to other countries to fill the vacuum.
China, for example, has been actively courting Mexico for years, but Mexico is also one of the countries with the highest number of trade agreements around the world. Deteriorating U.S.-Mexico relations will only incentivize Mexico to develop alternate economic relationships with not just China, but multiple other countries. For these reasons, we must safeguard our current agreements with Mexico, not undermine them.
And don’t forget that the 2018 Mexican presidential elections are around the corner. Disputes about the wall, NAFTA and energy reform will figure prominently in the election and are as easily politicized there as they have become here.
There has long been anti-NAFTA sentiment in Mexico, and anti-American voices there would prefer that Mexico back off from cooperation agreements with the U.S., including recent energy reform that has taken decades to accomplish and of which the U.S. is a prime beneficiary.
It is critical that the Trump administration tone down the rhetoric and engage Mexico as a meaningful economic and security partner. There are issues to be addressed, but we must establish a climate within which constructive negotiation can take place.
Mexico’s political leadership, too, must resist pressures within Mexico to turn away from its close relationship with the U.S. Our political leadership in Texas has a special role to play at this time, given Mexico’s unique importance to Texas in economic, security and cultural terms.
We manhandle Mexico at our own peril. It is time we act more deliberately.
Ricardo Ainslie is a professor of educational psychology and chair of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies Mexico Center at The University of Texas at Austin.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the San Antonio Express News, Fort Worth Star Telegram, Austin American Statesman, Corpus Chisti Caller Times, Rio Grande Guardian, McAllen Monitor and the Dallas Morning News.
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