NAFTA MembersOn Wednesday, February 22, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly arrived in Mexico City for a series of meetings with senior Mexican officials, including Foreign Relations Minister Luis Videgaray Caso, Secretary of Government Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, and Secretary of National Defense General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, among others.

During the visit, the two began efforts to coordinate on a wide range of bilateral issues, including counterterrorism, border security, and trade. However, prospects for any breakthrough dimmed after the Trump Administration announced new immigration directives that some worry could greatly increase the number of US deportations of undocumented individuals.  Speaking to manufacturers at the White House later that week, President Trump said he warned Secretary Tillerson the trip would be difficult “because we have to be treated fairly by Mexico.”

In a joint statement issued after their meetings, Secretaries Tillerson and Kelly acknowledged that “two strong sovereign countries from time to time will have differences,” but also reaffirmed “close cooperation on economic and commercial issues such as energy, legal migration, security, education exchanges, and people-to-people ties.”  The two sides also agreed they “should seize the opportunity to modernize and strengthen our trade and energy relationship.”  Secretaries Tillerson and Kelly went on to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto as well.

Meanwhile, Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and five other Senate Democrats sent a letter to Secretaries Tillerson and Kelly on February 23 reiterating the importance of the US-Mexico relations and urging they use their visit to forge a strong partnership based on mutual respect. The letter addressed a broad range of issues and emphasized that:

We believe that trade agreements should be updated; strengthening labor and environmental protections would benefit both Americans and Mexicans. Talk of punitive tariffs and threats against investors in Mexico, however, put American jobs tied to exports to Mexico in jeopardy. Ill-informed and arbitrary measures could make it more difficult to create the high-quality domestic jobs, including domestic manufacturing jobs, that are critical to ensuring continued economic recovery that reaches all American communities.

At an event hosted by the Atlantic Council on February 23, former US and Canadian officials urged the Trump Administration consider softening its rhetoric against Mexico and emphasized NAFTA’s economic benefits for the United States.  Carlos Gutierrez, former US Secretary of Commerce, cautioned that the US “cannot humiliate a country to the bargaining table,” suggesting Mexico will have little choice but to respond with combative rhetoric and positions.  Peter MacKay, former Canadian Foreign Minister, echoed those concerns, urging the US develop strong working relationships across all levels of government.