MEXICO CITY – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and US counterpart Donald Trump will hold a bilateral meeting in Washington on July 8, Mexico’s foreign secretary confirmed on Wednesday.
Speaking at a morning news conference at Mexico City’s National Palace, Marcelo Ebrard also hailed Wednesday’s launch of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the successor to the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Although he promised to provide more details about the trip in the coming days, Mexico’s top diplomat reiterated that an invitation from the White House had been received for an official working visit.
That will include a much-anticipated meeting between Trump and Lopez Obrador on July 8 and a meeting on trilateral matters, particularly the launch of the USMCA, the following day. It is unclear whether Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will travel to Washington for that occasion, the Mexican president said on Wednesday.
“The essence of this visit is what we’re now witnessing, which is the launch of this treaty. There are of course many issues (to discuss). There always will be with the United States, and also with Canada,” Ebrard said.
Lopez Obrador and Trump will hold “talks on various matters” next Wednesday, while the morning of July 9 has been set aside for “what pertains to the trilateral agenda,” including Canada.
The Mexican president’s trip to Washington will be his first state visit abroad since taking office in December 2018.
The frugal leftist leader has said he intends to travel via commercial flight, as opposed to a private jet, and that he will only be accompanied by Ebrard; the presidential chief of staff, Alfonso Romo; and Economy Secretary Graciela Marquez.
The planned visit has been criticized by politicians in Mexico, where Trump is highly unpopular, and by activists in both countries, who say the US president will capitalize on the Mexican leader’s presence to bolster his 2020 re-election campaign.
But Ebrard said on Wednesday that Lopez Obrador’s trip is necessary to send a message of confidence to investors about Wednesday’s launch of the USMCA.
“Why the visit? First of all, because we have to underscore for everyone – investors, financial institutions, but also for the international arena in general – that there’s a commitment in North America to strengthen trade,” the foreign secretary said.
The official added that Wednesday’s launch of the USMCA (which has been characterized as NAFTA 2.0) is a diplomatic triumph that was “thought to be impossible” two years ago.
He said the new deal would represent an improvement over NAFTA in terms of higher Mexican salaries, increased labor rights for workers, labor dispute settlement panels and legal certainty, which in “Mexico’s view is a major success.”
Other key actors, including Canada’s ambassador to the US, Kirsten Hillman, also have praised the USMCA, which was negotiated after Trump threatened to withdraw from NAFTA because of what he said was its disastrous impact on US workers.
Hillman, a trade specialist, said in a recent interview with media outlet Politico that NAFTA had been an important agreement for Canada but that she can say with “100 percent certainty” that the USMCA is a better deal for her country.
The new accord not only moves the previous agreement “into the modern era of the Internet and the way we do business today, but also has a particular focus on workers and a particular focus on making sure that the benefits of trade are being felt by everybody,” she said.
Among the USMCA’s key changes is a requirement that 75 percent of cars be made in North America, up from 62.5 percent under NAFTA.
Additionally, between 40 percent and 45 percent of a vehicle’s content must be produced by workers who earn the equivalent of at least $16 per hour, a stiffer requirement that could lead to more cars being manufactured in the US and Canada, as opposed to low-wage Mexico.
Marquez, for her part, noted that international trade represents nearly three-fourths of Mexico’s gross domestic product and said the USMCA can serve as a key “lever” in the country’s efforts to confront its massive, coronavirus-triggered economic challenges.
The Bank of Mexico, the country’s central bank, has forecast that the country’s GDP will plunge by nearly 9 percent this year.
However, the Business Coordinating Council (CCE), Mexico’s top business association, said in a joint statement with the US Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce that the USMCA is not as ambitious as they had hoped for.
“Overall, the agreement increases our region’s competitiveness, which is vital in an uncertain international context characterized by protectionist temptations,” the groups said in a statement.
“Nevertheless, the agreement was less than hoped for in areas such as intellectual property, procurement and labor mobility.”
Lopez Obrador had said last week that he would be meeting with Trump in the near future in Washington to mark the entry into force of the USMCA.
But he said then that on July 1 he would be celebrating the two-year anniversary of his landslide election victory and that his visit to the US therefore would occur a few days later.