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Mexico President, Trump to Meet in DC  07/08 06:44


   MEXICO CITY (AP) -- For his first foreign trip as president, Mexico's Andrs 
Manuel Lpez Obrador travels to Washington Tuesday to meet with President 
Donald Trump, who has repeatedly taken shots at Mexico and Mexican migrants to 
rally his base.

   The visit, coming just four months before U.S. elections, has many Mexicans 
cringing. Trump has insulted them, threatened crippling tariffs to strongarm 
Mexico into playing an uncomfortable role in U.S. immigration policy and 
insisted they will pay for a border wall meant to keep migrants out of the U.S.

   But Lpez Obrador has had a surprisingly warm relationship with Trump. He 
likes to point out that more recently Trump helped Mexico reach a deal with 
other oil-producing nations to cut production and aided Mexico in obtaining 
more ventilators to face the coronavirus pandemic. Both presidents talk about a 
blossoming friendship that seems to stem from their pursuit of unapologetically 
nationalist agendas.

   Lpez Obrador hints at the real reason for the trip when he reels off U.S. 
economic statistics --- the size of the U.S. pandemic stimulus package, the 
number of jobs the U.S. got back in June. Mexico's economy was in recession 
before the pandemic, has shed about 1 million jobs since and is forecast to 
contract this year by as much as 10%.

   "This helps us by being neighbors," Lpez Obrador said Tuesday, before 
departing. "This is about the economy, it's about jobs, it's about well-being."

   By late Tuesday his flight had arrived in Dulles International Airport after 
a layover in Atlanta.

   There is no doubt Trump will try to use the visit to his advantage. The 
encounter will draw attention to a trade accord replacing one Trump said was a 
bad deal and will allow the president to bash former Vice President Joe Biden 
for voting in favor of the old North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump could 
stir his base with sharp words for Mexico or simply play up Lpez Obrador's 
desire to express his gratitude.

   In 2016, Trump, then a candidate for the presidency, visited Lpez Obrador's 
predecessor, an invitation for which President Enrique Pea Nieto was harshly 
criticized, inlcuding by Lpez Obrador. Trump left that visit and flew to 
Arizona where he railed against immigrants.

   Lpez Obrador, a pragmatist and nationalist above all, knows there is no 
more important ally than the behemoth to the north, especially as Mexico's 
economy plunges deeper into recession. If Trump wins a second term, Lpez 
Obrador could be calculating he'll have a friend for the remaining four years 
of his administration. If the Democrats take office, he trusts they will 
respect the importance of the bilateral relationship and not hold a grudge.

   "Maybe he's making the right bet and we don't know it," said Guadalupe 
Correa-Cabrera, associate professor at George Mason University's Schar School 
of Policy and Government. She expects Trump to use the visit to rally his base, 
perhaps even reviving the claim that Mexico will pay for the border wall, a 
topic Lpez Obrador repeatedly dodged Tuesday.

   "He's conscious of what can happen," she said. "It happened to Pea Nieto. 
It can easily happen to him."

   Lpez Obrador insists that he has no desire to be drawn into U.S. domestic 
politics. He says he's going to mark the new United States-Mexico-Canada 
Agreement, which took effect July 1.

   "There is no way (Lpez Obrador) can spin this visit in his favor," said 
Tony Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at Rice 
University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

   Payan said the trade accord doesn't merit wading into U.S. political waters. 
"The (trade) agreement is done, finished and in force," he said. "There is no 
need to thank anyone. There is no need to express any kind of gratitude. There 
is no need for a pilgrimage."

   That's a decision Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apparently reached 
in deciding not to attend the meeting.

   On Monday, Lpez Obrador added another reason.

   "If we have a good relationship with the United States government, we are 
going to avoid mistreatment" of Mexicans living in the U.S., Lpez Obrador 
said. Lpez Obrador has repeatedly raised the importance of the remittances 
sent home by migrants and praised them as heroes.

   Payan said immigration is always on the bilateral agenda, but he sees little 
chance for Mexico winning any concessions from Trump, whose administration 
continues to curtail legal and illegal immigration.

   "I think Trump is more interested in restricting access to the American 
labor market today more than ever," Payan said.

   Mexico's worrisome level of violence --- 2019 saw the highest number of 
murders on record --- could be an opening. Lpez Obrador could ask for more 
U.S. assistance in intelligence or tracking drug traffickers' financial 
transactions. He says he won't undermine Mexico's sovereignty and has been a 
harsh critic of the Merida Initiative that brought U.S. financial and material 
support to Mexico as his predecessors battled the cartels.

   For Trump, the visit is an opportunity to criticize his opponent for 
supporting NAFTA more than two decades ago, possibling helping garner votes in 
the Midwest states where workers blamed the old trade deal for prompting U.S. 
companies to shift manufacturing to Mexico, where labor costs were lower.

   Trump said replacing the "disastrous NAFTA trade deal" was one of the 
biggest promises he made to his supporters in 2016. Trade was perhaps the 
single biggest reason he ran for president in the first place, Trump says.

   He is fond of saying that after NAFTA was created, the U.S. lost one in four 
manufacturing jobs while asserting that the new deal will create nearly 100,000 
new, high-paying American auto jobs, boost exports for U.S. farmers and 
ranchers and increase trade with Mexico and Canada.

   Trump is correct that the United States has lost nearly 4 million factory 
jobs since that pact took effect in January 1994. But most economists attribute 
the losses more to the recessions of 2001 and 2007-2009, automation and 
low-cost competition from China.

   Biden has said he didn't regret voting for NAFTA during his time in the 
Senate. "Fair trade is important," Biden has said. "Not free trade. Fair trade. 
And I think that back in the time during the Clinton administration, it made 
sense at the moment."

   From Lpez Obrador's perspective, a good relationship with whoever occupies 
the White House is Mexico's best policy.

   "We're going to offer our opinion, but we're not planning for 
confrontation," Lpez Obrador said Tuesday. "We're going to look to convince, 
we're going to seek understanding."

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