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Mexico's Foreign Minister: Certainty Needed in USMCA

Mexico's Foreign Affairs Secretary Alicia Bárcena, on her first trip to Washington, put USMCA first in her list of priorities, saying that in the less than 14 months left in the administration she is part of, she wants "to be able to bring certainty" in the NAFTA replacement, and to engage across all three countries in various sectors. "It's very important to consolidate this very important economic framework, and to make sure even if we are leaving in 13 months that this can remain as a powerful ... mechanism of trade and investment and economic development and partnership," she said at the Atlantic Council Aug. 10.

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Bárcena gave no examples of what could be causing uncertainty, but the three countries are three years away from a "sunset" review. Also, neither Canada, in the case of dairy market access, nor the U.S., in the case of auto rules of origin, has complied with a panel that ruled against each country's policies.

When asked about nearshoring, she returned again to the USMCA. "We have a tremendous opportunity, but we, of course, we have to give clear rules," she said.

She said Mexico is seeking "more powerful economic integration" with countries in the Caribbean and in Latin America.

Jason Marczak, a senior director at the think tank's Latin America Center, asked the secretary how Mexico and the U.S. could reduce wait times for goods crossing the border. His group produced a report last year that said if the wait time of 125 minutes was reduced by 10 minutes, it would increase production in Mexico in exporting sectors by 2% (see 2209270020).

Bárcena replied that the U.S. and Mexico need to coordinate infrastructure spending at ports of entry, and said that the government needs to decouple commuting and trade flows from others seeking to cross the border, such as asylum seekers.

She said she was speaking with U.S. officials during this visit about "how we can best enhance infrastructure in the border, and make sure that we facilitate the movement of goods, services, and basically people who want to work, people who want to contribute."

Marczak noted that the Biden administration had just sanctioned some Sinaloa cartel fentanyl traffickers (see 2308090019), and asked the secretary what Mexico can do to help stop the flow of fentanyl into the U.S.

She expressed sympathy for the seriousness of the challenge -- saying "your people are getting killed," and said Mexico is attempting to trace the whole value chain of synthetic drugs, with the help of its FDA-equivalent agency and the military.

"We don't produce precursors, but we receive them," she said, adding that sometimes they come to Mexico from the U.S., after they were imported to the U.S.

She linked that problem to Mexico's problem of arms trafficking from the U.S., and said that CBP itself has reported it does not systematically inspect cars going into Mexico from the U.S.

A readout from National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan of his meeting with the secretary said on those issues: "Both officials committed to accelerate cooperation to prevent arms trafficking and reduce the flow of illicit synthetic drugs to better protect our communities from harm."