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A Look At U.S.-Mexico Relations As Tillerson And Kelly Meet With Mexican Officials


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will be in Mexico today for meetings with the Mexican president. This visit comes as relations between these two neighbors are at their rockiest in decades over issues of trade and immigration. Yesterday, Mexico's foreign minister firmly rejected the Trump administration's new immigration actions that include a plan to deport Mexican and Latin American immigrants who are in the United States illegally to Mexico.


FOREIGN MINISTER LUIS VIDEGARAY CASO: (Through interpreter) I want to say, clearly and emphatically, that the government of Mexico and the Mexican people do not have to accept provisions that one government unilaterally wants to impose on the other.

GREENE: The remarks there from Mexico's foreign minister. Now for more on where U.S.-Mexico relations might be headed, we're joined in our studio by Antonio Ortiz-Mena. He is the former head of economic affairs at the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., and currently a senior adviser with the Albright Stonebridge Group.

Thanks for coming in. Good morning.

ANTONIO ORTIZ-MENA: Sure. Good morning. Great to be here.

GREENE: Well, we're happy to have you. After everything these two presidents have been through - Enrique Pena Nieto canceling his trip to Washington and a Twitter war with President Trump - how awkward is this meeting?

ORTIZ-MENA: Well, I would say it's awkward but also very necessary and very welcome. It's very important to keep meeting at the highest levels, even if in some topics they agreed to disagree, such as the wall and who's going to pay for the well. But it's important to keep talking.

GREENE: Yeah, we heard from Mexico's foreign minister. Last week, he was actually also quoted describing this as you are, as very important - as a moment of definition. I mean, he said this could determine how these two countries coexist over the next decades. Are the stakes really that high here?

ORTIZ-MENA: Absolutely. Absolutely. For decades, Mexico and the U.S. had a very contentious relationship. And over the past few decades, since the onset of NAFTA about 25 years ago, both countries have decided to work together constructively because there really is no other option. We are interdependent across a range of issues.

GREENE: What exactly does Mexico's president want to hear from Secretaries Tillerson and Kelly?

ORTIZ-MENA: I would say that, first of all, clarity is absolutely essential. There's a lot of noise coming from the U.S. in terms of what their immigration policies will be, what their trade policies will be, so clarity would be greatly welcome. And also, the sense that Mexico is a partner - not an adversary, not a challenge but a trusted and reliable partner.

GREENE: Well, let's talk about NAFTA. I mean, that's a trade deal that you were very much part of negotiating. Donald Trump has, I mean, really bashed that deal, talking about reworking it. Hasn't he offered clarity already?

ORTIZ-MENA: Well, he has spoken about a trade deficit and the need to create jobs in the U.S. But I would say that the correct focus is on creating jobs in the U.S. and also in Mexico. How we do that is open to question. I don't think it has anything to do with, you know, focusing on trade surplus or deficit or forcing companies to go from Mexico back into the U.S. So correct in terms of aims - I have a problem with the means that are being pursued.

GREENE: Are there ways - are there means that would give Donald Trump the ability to tell Americans that their jobs are being protected and also rework this deal in a way that Mexico's government would be satisfied with?

ORTIZ-MENA: Yes, absolutely. If there's a big concern about the trade balance, the focus should be on having the U.S. sell even more to Mexico as opposed to imposing new barriers for Mexican exports entering into the U.S., such as a proposed border tax. So we should have, you know, more trade until we can get even more Mexican investment in the U.S., for example. There are win-win solutions here.

GREENE: Well, let me turn to the question of deportations. I mean, we have these new actions suggesting that the Trump administration is going to do more to remove people in the country illegally, send them to Mexico. The foreign minister there saying - you can't do that unilaterally. So what is Mexico's president going to tell these secretaries today about how it could be done in a way that's not unilateral?

ORTIZ-MENA: Well, basically, to see how Mexico and the U.S. can work together. Net migration from Mexico to the U.S. has been zero for the past few years. The big challenge comes from Central America and other regions. And Mexico and the U.S. have to work together for a shared problem - to resolve a shared problem. There is also undocumented immigration from Central America coming into Mexico. So this is...

GREENE: Did you say...

ORTIZ-MENA: ...A shared problem that requires a shared solution.

GREENE: Did you say zero immigration from Mexico to...

ORTIZ-MENA: Zero net, zero net.

GREENE: Zero net immigration.

ORTIZ-MENA: Zero net.

GREENE: OK, I see.

Let me just - we just have a few seconds left. Do you see President Trump as a potential partner for Mexico?

ORTIZ-MENA: Yes. I believe that if the focus is on taking the relationship to, you know, a new level, you know - big thinking, daring initiatives - we can do it. If we focus on the positive-sum focus, not I win, you lose. If you do that, it will be very difficult to get any agreement.

GREENE: OK. Antonio Ortiz-Mena is a former Mexican diplomat. He's now a senior adviser at the Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington, D.C.

Thanks so much for coming in this morning.

ORTIZ-MENA: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: February 23, 2017 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous Web introduction misspelled Albright Stonebridge Group as Stoneridge.