Foreign Policy

Till death do us part: US, Mexico inextricably linked

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It has often been noted that the U.S.-Mexico relationship is like a marriage — it has its ups and downs, disputes and romances, but, essentially, the two countries are tied together.

Nonetheless, abusive language can be highly destructive. While the recent turmoil in the relationship may not be lead to divorce, there is a very real danger of estrangement if the two nations do not receive the right counseling. 

{mosads}The current marital conflict has far-reaching impacts, and the urgency of reaffirming the bilateral relation transcends the diplomatic rhetoric of the need for mere peaceful coexistence between neighboring nations.


Weakening its relationship with Mexico will be highly detrimental to the United States. The relationship is not the competitive rivalry based on “stealing” each other’s jobs it is portrayed to be. Rather, it is interdependent and mutually beneficial. It is imperative for the U.S. to adjust its position in order to preserve the relationship. A failure to do so will create fallout that spreads far and wide. 

Following unfortunate remarks by President Trump and a rather coarse interaction between government officials on both sides, the integrity of the United States’ relationship with Mexico is at stake. The very public dispute over the building of the wall and which country will pay for it has injected further uncertainty into an already rocky scenario.

As a result, certain actors in Mexico, such as the military and leftwing political parties, are now much less likely to collaborate with the United States. A movement of national unity is taking place in Mexico, which, at the moment, could be positive, but may soon devolve into a something entirely different, resembling the strong anti-American sentiment of years past.

As in any relationship, money matters. The first area in which the United States would be negatively affected by a deterioration of its relationship with Mexico is economic prosperity. The U.S. exports more than $240 billion in goods to Mexico each year and over $30 billion in services.

Although the goods trade deficit is around $60 billion, the U.S. holds a considerable services trade surplus with Mexico — $9.2 billion in 2015. Mexico is the second-largest export market in the world for American goods, and roughly 4.9 million American jobs depend on the trading relationship.

If a trade war were to break out between the two countries, it seems likely that U.S. exports to Mexico would be hit harder than Mexico’s to the United States. In the long run, both sides would suffer. Mexican consumption of American products would decline sharply due to depressed economic growth.

A quick look at past U.S. attempts at autarky — i.e., complete economic independence — demonstrate the negative global impact of American isolationism.

It is also vital that attempts at reconciliation between Mexico and the U.S. highlight what each party gets from its cooperation on immigration. Contrary to popular belief, antagonizing Mexico will not decrease illegal immigration, nor tighten border security.

Mexico has become a valuable partner for the U.S. on immigration issues, helping to stop almost 400,000 Central American migrants on their journey, a contribution that the current administration should openly recognize.  

What’s more, Mexican migration to the U.S. has essentially dried up — more Mexicans are leaving the U.S. than entering in recent years. Demographic trends suggest that this is unlikely to change, though a trade war could cause economic havoc and spur thousands to leave their Mexican homes in search of opportunities in the U.S.

The safety of both nations is at stake in this marriage. For the last ten years, the Merida Initiative has proved extraordinarily productive as a joint effort to combat organized crime, drug trafficking and money laundering in Mexico, though it has done nothing to mitigate the persistent American demand for illegal narcotics.

Mexico has fought a brave war against organized crime in an attempt to stem the flow of drugs, and the U.S. has assisted greatly through aid, training and intelligence sharing. Just as important, however, is the fact that Mexico has come to understand that any terrorist attack on the U.S. that utilizes the Mexican border would have nightmarish effects on their own interests.

Mexican military and intelligence services are more willing than ever to collaborate with U.S. counterparts. It should be clear to the U.S. government how important it is to have friendly neighbors on its borders. Instead of the current combative approach, the U.S. government needs to reaffirm its desire to cooperate with its southern neighbor as partners.

It is not too late to save this marriage from falling into bitterness and recrimination. In fact there is still reason to be hopeful — strong institutional mechanisms and channels of communication can help bring a more reasoned approach to the relationship.

There is much to celebrate in bilateral affairs, and many of us are hopeful that the right approach mutual can still be salvaged. What we need now is a concerted effort to manage and reconcile the troublesome but comparatively minor differences in the relationship. This must happen soon. 


Duncan Wood is the director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. 

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

Tags Americas Cultural globalization Demography Foreign relations of Mexico Human migration Mexico–United States relations Mérida Initiative North American Free Trade Agreement
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