Search Penny Hill Press

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mexico: Issues for Congress

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

The United States and Mexico have a close and complex bilateral relationship as neighbors and partners under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Although security issues have recently dominated the U.S. relationship with Mexico, analysts predict that bilateral relations may shift toward economic matters once President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto takes office. Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) defeated leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Josefina Vázquez Mota of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) in Mexico’s July 1, 2012, presidential election. As a result, the PRI, which controlled Mexico from 1929 to 2000, will retake the presidency on December 1, 2012. Some analysts have raised concerns regarding the PRI’s corrupt past and impending return to power, but President-elect Peña Nieto has pledged to govern democratically and to forge cross-party alliances.

The outgoing PAN government of Felipe Calderón has pursued an aggressive anticrime strategy and increased security cooperation with the United States. These efforts have helped Mexico arrest or kill record numbers of drug kingpins, but more than 55,000 people have died as a result of organized crime-related violence since December 2006. Mexico’s ongoing security challenges have overshadowed some of the Calderón government’s achievements, including its successful economic stewardship during the global financial crisis and expansion of healthcare coverage. 

U.S. Policy 

In recent years, U.S. policy toward Mexico has been framed by security cooperation under the Mérida Initiative. Congress has provided more than $1.9 billion in Mérida aid since FY2008 to support Mexico’s efforts against drug trafficking and organized crime. Whereas U.S. assistance initially focused on training and equipping Mexican counterdrug forces, it now prioritizes strengthening the rule of law. Along the border, U.S. policymakers have sought to balance security and commercial concerns. The U.S. and Mexican governments resolved a long-standing trade dispute in 2011 involving NAFTA trucking provisions and have sought to improve competitiveness through regulatory cooperation. Bilateral trade surpassed $460 billion in 2011.The February 2012 signing of a Trans-Boundary Hydrocarbons Agreement for managing oil resources in the Gulf of Mexico could create new opportunities for energy cooperation. 

Legislative Action 

The 112th Congress has maintained an active interest in Mexico. The Obama Administration asked for $269.5 million in assistance for Mexico in its FY2013 budget request. The Senate and House Appropriations Committees’ versions of the FY2013 foreign aid measure, S. 3241 and H.R. 5857, each recommend increases in aid to Mexico, with human rights conditions similar to P.L. 112-74. Congress has held oversight hearings, issued reports, and introduced legislation on how to bolster the Mérida Initiative and on related U.S. domestic efforts to combat gun trafficking, money laundering, and drug demand. A Senate-passed bill, S. 1612, would increase penalties for transnational drug trafficking.

Violence in northern Mexico has kept border security on the agenda, with P.L. 112-93 increasing penalties for aviation smuggling, and P.L. 112-127 tightening sentencing guidelines for building border tunnels. Another bill that recently passed both chambers, H.R. 915, provides statutory authority for the bilateral Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) program. A House- passed measure, H.R. 1299, would require a new border security strategy, while another, H.R. 6368, would require a study on cross-border violence.

Mexico’s recent accession to negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement is likely to generate congressional interest. Congressional action may be required in order for the Trans-boundary Hydrocarbons Agreement to take effect. And, as Mexico’s political transition approaches, Congress is likely to monitor the policy positions taken by the incoming Peña Nieto administration.

Also see: CRS Report R42548, Mexico’s 2012 Elections, by Clare Ribando Seelke; CRS Report R41349, U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond, by Clare Ribando Seelke and Kristin M. Finklea; and CRS Report RL32934, U.S.-Mexico Economic Relations: Trends, Issues, and Implications, by M. Angeles Villarreal.

Date of Report: September 24, 2012
Number of Pages: 45
Order Number: RL32724
Price: $29.95

To Order:

RL32724.pdf  to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


Phone 301-253-0881

For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.