Mexico’s election could impact trade, policy in U.S.

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Policy experts tell KXAN that the historic election that took place in Mexico Sunday has the potential to impact both trade and policy in the U.S. and Texas. Mexico will elect a new president, several governors and hundreds of mayors and local representatives. 

In the presidential election, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftist candidate, has been declared the victor, with more than 50 percent of the vote.

César Martinez, a senior fellow at UT’s Straus Center for International Security and Law, spoke with KXAN from Mexico City Sunday where he had traveled to vote. Martinez is a Mexican citizen and brought his two-year-old along to send a message. 

“We should be thinking about the future of our kids when we vote,” Martinez said. “I think that’s my driver and that’s what leads me to vote is looking at his little eyes and trying to choose the best for him.”

He described the election this year in Mexico as, “an election with a lot of anger, not very different to the one we had in the United States two years ago, an election where a lot of people are fed up.”

Specifically, he said citizens are frustrated with corruption and economic shortcomings

Martinez explained that the Mexican people are facing, “an economy that, while the jobs are there, the salaries are not growing, the wages are not growing as fast as people would like.”

He added that this election may also determine whether Mexico continues on the path of economic reform that it has taken over the past 30 years or charts a new course. 

CNN reports that some 89 million people were eligible to vote Sunday and Martinez said that the initial numbers show a high voter participation rate of over 65 percent. He explained that unlike U.S. elections,  Mexican elections do not go through runoffs or an electoral college: whichever candidate gets the largest percentage of votes will win. 

He noted that corruption and threats to democracy have been evident in the lead-up to the election as well. AFP reports that more than 130 candidates for local office have been assassinated prior to these elections.

Martinez said that a presidency under Obrador may mean Mexican policy that looks inward for answers and economic stimulus rather than to other countries. Obrador will be the first left-leaning president Mexico has had in decades. 

Jeremy Suri, a Professor of Public Affairs and History at UT Austin explained that this election has the potential to bring a president to power who would have very different views from presidents who’ve worked with the United States in the past. 

Suri believes that’s because there is growing momentum from young Mexican voters for change.

“One of the consistent themes in this election has been an effort to clean Mexican politics of what has been rampant, longstanding corruption, corruption on a scale that  quite frankly we can’t even imagine in the United States,” Suri said

Speaking as a historian, Suri added his thoughts on what it will take to combat that corruption. 

“The best way to address corruption in politics is not simply by supporting one candidate or another, but getting involved at the local level and building institutions that are transparent and resistant to corruption,” he said. He explained that means voting, but also supporting a free press, and strong legal institutions.

The way democracy plays out in Mexico also has the potential to significantly impact foreign policy, Suri said. 

“This election is huge for Texans and for Americans, because right now the United States is embroiled in a very difficult set of negotiations with the Mexicans as well as with the Canadians on the future of our free trade agreement,” Suri said. 

The North American Free Trade Agreement has been instrumental in creating thousands of jobs in Texas, he added. 

“If this new leadership in Mexico pursues a harder line as the Canadian government has in responding to President Trumps threats, that could lead to the end of the free trade agreement,” Suri said.

He said an end to NAFTA could mean a return to less exchange between the U.S. and Mexico, as was the case in decades past where it was more difficult for high-skilled workers to cross into the U.S. Suri explained that cities like Austin receive thousands of high-skilled workers, from professors to computer programmers, each year. 

Martinez, on the other hand, believes the fate of NAFTA will be determined north of the border. 

“The incorporation of NAFTA itself, I don’t think the Mexican election is a driver of that, I think the answers of that are in Washington, D.C. I think that the determinant of the future of the relationship between the United States and Mexico is more the attitude of the White House, than the attitude in Mexico’s national policy,” he said. Martinez believes that because all three of the leading candidates have been clearly against many of the policies Donald Trump has put forth. 

“I think what response Mexico has will just be a reaction to what Donald Trump does in the United States,” he said. Of the three candidates, Martinez noted that Lopez Obrador seemed the least open to cooperating with the United States. 

The Texas Association of Business tells KXAN they are closely following this election as well, adding that who is elected could shift everything from NAFTA to trade relationships. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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