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Mexican Ambassador to U.S. pushes for updated NAFTA in Michigan visit

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Martha Barcena Coqui is on a campaign swing of sorts through Michigan this week.

Barcena is rounding up support for ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). That’s a newly-renegotiated version of NAFTA that still needs to be ratified by Congress.

Barcena says the new Mexican government led by President Andres Manuel López Obrador would like to see the agreement ratified by this summer. She’s trying to convince members of Michigan’s Congressional delegation, particularly Democrats, that Mexico is now serious about major labor reforms, ones she says will open the door for “truly democratic unions” in the country.

“This labor reform is really a game-changer. It’s a labor reform that is a 180 degree change for many reasons,” said Barcena in a briefing with reporters Monday.

Barcena warns that if Congress doesn’t ratify the USMCA as-is, re-negotiating it with Mexico’s new center-left government would be like “opening a Pandora’s box.”

“I think the U.S. actors can understand that perfectly well,” Barcena said. “And the USMCA, it’s not only a trade agreement, it’s a framework that gives us stability and certainty for the future our relationship, and for the future of the region as a competitive region.”

Barcena’s visit to Michigan will focus on the important trade ties in the auto sector that Mexico and Michigan have built up since NAFTA came into effect in the mid-1990s. Mexico is Michigan’s second-largest trading partner after Canada, with the two sides doing about $69 billion worth of trade every year. Michigan is Mexico’s third-largest U.S. trading partner after Texas and California.

Autos “have a value chain that is totally integrated in North America,” Barcena said. “If you recognize that, you know that you cannot speak about an American car, a Canadian car, or a Mexican car. It is a North American car.”

Most analyses agree that the changes to NAFTA that resulted in USMCA will result in, at most, marginal changes to the current U.S. economy. There are just a handful of important changes, prompting many to call it NAFTA 2.0.

Barcena also discussed immigration issues and the migration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. She says the Trump Administration wants to reduce migration flows to zero, and sees them solely in terms of a national security threat.

But Barcena says as a practical matter that’s impossible, especially since the current border crisis is driven by a humanitarian crisis in Central America.

“Migration in the world can never be reduced to zero,” she said. “Because it is inimical to humanity. What you have to do is make it regular, orderly, safe and have legal channels.”

Barcena says Mexico is willing to work with Washington on opening more of those legal channels in both countries, “but we would like also the U.S. government to recognize the economic and social aspects of migration.”

Barcena says impoverished regions like southern Mexico and Central America also need more investment from both governments and private actors.

Barcena’s visit to Michigan will include meetings with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. She’ll also meet with automaker executives, business leaders and Mexican American community leaders.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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