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Migration, economic cooperation top agenda in Blinken visit to Mexico

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Mexican counterparts also discussed production and trafficking of the deadly drug fentanyl, but reserved the more contentious topics like Mexican President López Obrador’s energy policies for different venues.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard in Mexico City Monday to discuss migration, drug trafficking and other issues in the bilateral relationship. 

“Secretary Blinken noted his continued appreciation for collaboration with Mexico on a range of issues of mutual interest,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a statement following the meeting. 

During the High-Level Economic Dialogue (HLED), cabinet members from both countries discussed “the shared threat of fentanyl production and trafficking, addressing migration in a safe, orderly and humane manner […] and advancing our shared economic interests.”

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols went into more detail during a press briefing this past week, saying the goal of the dialogue was to “foster economic development and growth, job creation, global competitiveness and reduction of poverty and inequality.”

Nichols mentioned commitments made at the 2021 dialogue, such as collaborative programs between the two nations’ international development agencies aimed at addressing the root causes of migration from Central America. Also on the agenda was the Los Angeles Declaration on migration, which President Biden announced at the Summit of the Americas in June.

The bureaucracies of both countries have held up their ends of the bargain on these commitments, according to Rafael Fernández de Castro, director of the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies (USMEX) at the University of California San Diego. 

“Not only the bureaucracy, but also the CEO dialogue, the people who organize the business sector in Mexico, they’ve been having meetings about this, so there are ideas out there,” Fernández said in a phone interview.

There has just been one wrench in the gears since the 2021 dialogue: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

“But all of this is tainted by López Obrador, who continues to have a very nationalistic approach to the relationship with the U.S., and now there’s a big dispute in the USMCA because of his energy policies,” said Fernández.

López Obrador’s energy policies have caused strife between the U.S. and Mexico and led the U.S. Trade Representative to request dispute settlement consultations under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). 

The State Department said before Monday's meeting that Blinken would not discuss the matter at the dialogue, stating it falls under the purview of the U.S. Trade Representative and should be discussed via the proper channels outlined by the USMCA.

Blinken and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo met with López Obrador and Ebrard at the National Palace before the dialogue. 

When asked at his morning press conference Monday if he would bring up the topic with Blinken, López Obrador said: “If it comes up, it will be discussed.”

The topic did come up, according to Ebrard, who briefly spoke to reporters in between the two meetings. 

“What we discussed was that this is not an issue for this table,” said Ebrard. “There is an established procedure when there are differences that need to be resolved, which I’ve said on other occasions. But it was no more than 5% of the conversation we had today.”

Ebrard focused attention on the opportunities that recently passed U.S. legislation like the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act could offer Mexico, and mentioned other international dialogues to be held later this year.

But Mexico's former ambassador to the United States Martha Bárcena Coqui said that Ebrard, who plans to run for president in 2024, really wanted the attention to be on himself.

Ebrard's original plan, which he did not share with López Obrador, was to host the dialogue in Monterrey. When the president found out about the meeting, he had it moved to Mexico City.

"The message the president sent here was, 'I'm the one who calls the shots, not you, Marcelo Ebrard.' That's his first message, clear as water," said Bárcena.

His second message was to get a word in about his energy policies.

Bárcena called out both governments for their "laziness" in handling these talks. She said the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs has no economic department and that such dialogues used to be carried out by Mexico's Secretariat of Finance.

"All of this is the effort of Ebrard putting himself in the spotlight," she said.

Bárcena also accused the United States of similarly sending the wrong officials and putting the politics over the economics. While representatives from the U.S. Trade Representative and Commerce Department were present, the visit was headed by the State Department.

This resulted in an ultimately ineffectual meeting that brought nothing new to the table that hadn't already been discussed in the High-Level Security Dialogue held in October 2021.

"The topics discussed were the same as always: immigration, security, drugs," she said. "So the conversation between Ebrard and Blinken is just fluff, it's just to give Ebrard publicity. In reality, it looks like they didn't talk about anything new that wasn't already on the agenda."

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