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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mexico-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

June S. Beittel
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

The United States and Mexico have a close and complex bilateral relationship, with extensive economic linkages as neighbors and partners under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Bilateral relations are characterized by strong commercial and cultural ties and cooperation on a range of bilateral and international issues. In recent years, security issues have dominated the bilateral agenda, as the United States has supported Mexican President Felipe Calderón's campaign against drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and organized crime. 

Halfway through his six-year term, President Calderón of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) is focused on dealing with two major challenges: restarting the Mexican economy, which contracted by 7% in 2009 (largely as a result of the U.S. recession), and combating DTOs. In addition, Calderón submitted a wide-ranging political reform proposal to the Mexican Congress in December 2009, which, if enacted, would introduce run-off presidential elections, permit legislators to run for re-election, and reduce the size of the Congress. As the 2012 presidential elections approach, the Congress, which is now dominated by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), could be reluctant to give President Calderón any major legislative victories or to take up difficult issues such as reforming the declining oil sector.In recent years, U.S.-Mexican relations have grown stronger as the two countries have worked together to combat drug trafficking and secure their shared border. President Obama met with President Calderón in Mexico on April 16-17, 2009, to discuss counterdrug cooperation, immigration reform, and climate change. The leaders met again in August 2009 alongside Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the North American Leaders Summit in Guadalajara to discuss how to coordinate their responses to the global economic crisis, climate change, and security issues. They pointed to North America's successful response to the H1N1 "swine flu" outbreak as a model for future collaboration. One challenge for Mexico-U.S. relations has been how to resolve an ongoing dispute involving the implementation of NAFTA trucking provisions. In March 2009, Congress terminated a pilot project for Mexican-registered trucks to operate beyond the border commercial zone, and Mexico responded by imposing import tariffs on more than 90 U.S. agricultural and industrial products. 

During its second session, the 111th Congress is likely to maintain an active interest in Mexico with counternarcotics, border, and trade issues dominating the agenda. To date, Congress has appropriated some $1.3 billion in assistance for Mexico under the Mérida Initiative, an anti-crime and counterdrug package first funded in FY2008, including $210.3 million in the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-117). Congress is likely to maintain a keen interest in how implementation of the Mérida Initiative and related domestic initiatives to improve border security are proceeding, particularly as it considers the President's FY2011 budget request, which includes at least $341 million in assistance to Mexico, including $310 million in assistance accounts that have funded the Mérida Initiative. Congress may also be interested in how the Obama Administration moves to resolve the current trucking dispute with Mexico now that P.L. 111-117 would permit the resumption of a U.S.-funded pilot program for Mexican trucks. Congress may also consider proposals for comprehensive immigration reform. For more information, see CRS Report R40135, Mérida Initiative for Mexico and Central America: Funding and Policy Issues; CRS Report R40582, Mexico's Drug-Related Violence; CRS Report RL32934, U.S.-Mexico Economic Relations: Trends, Issues, and Implications; and CRS Report RL31738, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Implementation: The Future of Commercial Trucking Across the Mexican Border

Date of Report: February 3, 2010
Number of Pages: 38
Order Number: RL32724
Price: $29.95

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