Mexican ambassador: Our approach to Trump is 'strategic patience'

Mexican ambassador: Our approach to Trump is 'strategic patience'
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Mexico's ambassador to the United States, Gerónimo Gutiérrez, says his country's stance toward President Trump is one of "strategic patience."

“The Mexican government has, in a sense, exercised strategic patience in trying to cope with a series of issues during the past months," Gutiérrez said Wednesday during a talk at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. "That’s the instruction that we received from [Mexican] President [Enrique] Peña Nieto. That’s where we will continue to be.”

In his talk, Gutiérrez expressed optimism for the future of U.S.-Mexico relations but also highlighted areas of frustration.

Topping his speech were concerns about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which Trump on the campaign trail said was hurting American workers and vowed to renegotiate. But since his inauguration, Trump's administration has sent mixed signals about how it will handle trade with Mexico.

“The past few months, we think we’ve seen things improve a little,” Gutiérrez said about relations between the two neighbors. “And although we are still very far from where Mexico believes we should be, the prospect, certainly, of having a good deal in the future have improved.”

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Trump told a group of business executives on Tuesday that he would have “pleasant surprises” for them regarding NAFTA.

Gutiérrez said that despite “good initial meetings” between Mexican and U.S. officials on trade, negotiations were going slowly.

One factor potentially hampering the Trump administration's trade policy is the wait on a trade representative.  

Last week, the Senate Finance Committee postponed taking up the nomination of Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s pick to head the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Gutiérrez said the White House won't notify Congress that it is opening negotiations with Mexico and other nations on trade until Lighthizer is confirmed.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that talks on NAFTA would pick up after Lighthizer's confirmation.

But Gutiérrez also cautioned that, with Mexican presidential elections and the U.S. 2018 midterms looming, trade talks need to make progress soon.

“In my view, it’s not wise to go into an election year having a trade negotiation open,” he said. “In any circumstance and for any country, that’s very risky.” 

Gutiérrez said NAFTA could be improved, saying he wanted to see work on e-commerce and telecommunications, areas that have changed since the agreement went into effect in 1994.

“We did not have e-commerce 23 years ago,” the ambassador said.

He also floated ideas to improve trade across North America, such as continentwide improvements in infrastructure, enhanced enforcement of trade policies, and syncing regulations in Mexico and the U.S.

He expressed hope that a compromise could be reached on NAFTA, despite what he called a "difficult January."