Inter-American Dialogue's Latin America Advisor

Have Prospects for U.S.-Mexican Relations Improved?

The Mexico-U.S. relationship won't substantially change; there are too many ongoing issues to expect any major shift in what has become a very close and cooperative bilateral partnership in economic, security and social aspects. There will be a change of emphasis from the Mexican side as far as the security relationship goes, with Peña Nieto's declared intention to focus much more on the economy and public safety. He has already moved away from the constant statements made by his predecessor extolling the number of criminals apprehended and 'successes' in the fight against organized crime. The change of message comes as a relief to many Mexicans tired of hearing about violence and crime on a daily basis.

There are two issues on the bilateral agenda, however, that portend significant changes if President Obama is able to fulfill his latest commitments: gun control and immigration reform. The latter seems to be headed toward a bipartisan agreement that might fundamentally change the situation for the thousands of Mexicans who are in the United States without proper documents. If Congress passes a comprehensive reform that allows them to normalize their situation and have a path to legal residency and eventual citizenship, it would have a huge positive impact on the relationship. As for gun control, Mexico would obviously favor a total ban on the sale and possession of assault weapons as the best way to prevent them from crossing the border, but even universal background checks and limits on the number and type of weapons an individual can purchase would be a welcome development. On trade ties, Mexico reached a quarter trillion dollars of total exports and imports in 2012 — a hefty portion of that unprecedented amount was with the United States. As Mexico becomes an increasingly important part of the global supply chain and U.S. companies continue to invest heavily south of the border, the economic relationship has nowhere to go but up. And if Peña Nieto is able to fundamentally reform the country's energy sector, there promises to be even more investment.