August 31 was probably the most miserable day of 2016 for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. He welcomed at the presidential residence of Los Pinos none other than then Mexico’s Numero Uno enemy Donald Trump.
Peña Nieto had to weather the immense barrage of fierce criticism from friends and foes alike for several weeks, which pushed his popularity numbers to single digits as the visit was considered by most Mexicans a near treason and a show of presidential weakness.
It even cost him the resignation of Treasury Secretary Luis Videgaray, who arranged the meeting in the hopes that Hillary Clinton would also accept the invitation. As it turned out, only Trump did and was taken from the Mexico City airport to Los Pinos in a Mexican Army helicopter, a move criticized as adding moral injury to insult.
Those were days in which all pundits and polls took it for granted that the winner would be Hillary and she even declined to accept Peña Nieto’s invitation to Mexico.
Well, that’s history, the tortilla has two sides and it’s been flipped by a majority of U.S. voters who believe everything Trump promised them and Wednesday we found out that it is now Peña Nieto who is seeking a meeting with The Donald, pardon me, president-elect Trump. The meet should preferably be, Peña Nieto said, before January 20 when the new president of the United States will be sworn in.
In one of the three Clinton-Trump debates, Trump referred to Peña Nieto in kind terms and described him as “a very nice gentleman.” Indeed, Peña Nieto left the door open with Trump, which is a helpful thing even if Mexico’s president had to pay the price in terms of impopularity.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the agenda, starting with the construction of Trump Wall along the 1960-mile long border. And the question of “who will pay for it” remains open, for now.
Beyond the Fortress America image the wall will give to the United States, Trump promised he would do away with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he promised on countless occasions but he never said how he’d do it, as NAFTA can’t just be undone overnight as it represents a $650 billion a year trade, which is not small fry.
Closer to reality and this has been discussed in Mexico many times, a renegotiation of NAFTA is imminent as the 22 year old agreement is now showing signs of fatigue and many of the original 22 chapters negotiated under it are nearly obsolete, either for one nation or the other.
But again, this time negotiations will be done under different circumstances as there were when presidents George Bush and Carlos Salinas de Gortari agreed on it in 1993, before leaving office.
But the other treaty which Mexico is part of is the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is now surely dead as its main promoter, the U.S. government, most likely will no longer participate in negotiations and if all that the president-elect said and promised is complied with, the TPP is “fired.”
But will the other 11 participating nations cast it away? An option for Peña Nieto is that if the United States is going to shut down as much as possible of NAFTA, the TPP is an answer and take up, along with Canada, the TPP leadership as this are nations who, unlike Trump’s USAexit, do believe in the seemingly inevitable future of the global economy, where isolation has no place. Do the TPP nations need the United States? Perhaps not.
But that’s only part of the agenda of the upcoming meeting between Peña Nieto, whom Trump addresses as “a very nice gentleman” and the egregious future president of the United States .
A diplomacy oriented policy of transition has been put in place by the Mexican government but still the nation is dealing with an unpredictable non-politician who at least in his acceptance speech showed a glimpse of diplomatic touch.
Perhaps, Trump is not the ogre Mexicans deem him to be, some hope.
But indeed President Peña Nieto has made it clear that wall or no wall, NAFTA or no NAFTA, the relationship with the U.S. government is headed for change.
Good or bad change? That is the question.