Juan Carlos Hartasanchez on the future of U.S.-Mexico relations


Q: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto last week named Luis Videgaray as the country’s foreign minister. Videgaray had resigned as Mexico’s finance minister in September after Peña Nieto faced widespread criticism for meeting with then-U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump in a visit Videgaray was reportedly instrumental in arranging. Why was Videgaray tapped as foreign minister? What kind of relationship will he have with the incoming Trump administration? What characteristics will define Peña Nieto’s foreign policy in the year ahead?

Juan Carlos Hartasánchez Frenk, senior director at Albright Stonebridge Group: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has decided that his country’s foreign relations efforts will be led by a former finance minister who lacks significant diplomatic experience.

There are two possible explanations for his decision. The first centers on domestic politics rather than foreign affairs. As foreign minister, Videgaray will have an unprecedented level of exposure and influence, more than any other cabinet member. By placing Videgaray in this role, it’s clear that Peña Nieto is sending his party (PRI) a strong signal on whom he plans to back in the 2018 presidential elections. We should not be surprised to see Videgaray resign later this year to pursue the PRI’s presidential nomination.

The second explanation is the good relationship that Videgaray is said to have with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in law and his appointed senior advisor. Peña Nieto’s administration expects that these relationships will strengthen the good-will between the U.S. and Mexico.  However, it is unrealistic to expect that relations between Mexico and the Trump administration won’t be strained in the coming months as discussions over migration, border security, and trade ensue.

Peña Nieto’s foreign policy throughout 2017 will focus on limiting US protectionism and providing certainty regarding Mexico-US trade and investment relations. We should expect to see an increased presence of Mexican officials in Washington D.C. and in key states throughout the U.S., promoting Mexico not as part of the problem, but as part of the solution. We should also expect Peña Nieto to seek international support from countries and international organizations on key issues (e.g. human rights and the protection of the environment) to counter the U.S. on some priorities.