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Friday, February 15, 2013

Mexico and the 112th 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 now that President Enrique Peña Nieto has taken 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, retook the presidency on December 1, 2012. Some analysts have raised concerns regarding the PRI’s return to power, but President Peña Nieto has pledged to govern democratically and to forge cross-party alliances.

The outgoing PAN government of Felipe Calderón pursued an aggressive anticrime strategy and increased security cooperation with the United States. Those efforts helped Mexico arrest or kill record numbers of drug kingpins, but 60,000 people may have died as a result of organized crimerelated violence during the Calderón Administration. Mexico’s ongoing security challenges overshadowed some of the Calderón government’s achievements, including its successful economic stewardship during and after the global financial crisis. 

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 112
th Congress 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 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.

Violence in northern Mexico has kept border security on the agenda, with P.L. 112-93 increasing penalties for aviation smuggling, P.L. 112-127 tightening sentencing guidelines for building border tunnels, and P.L. 112-205 providing statutory authority for the bilateral Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) program.

Mexico’s recent accession to negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement generated congressional interest. Congressional consideration of the Trans-boundary Hydrocarbons Agreement did not occur.

This report reflects legislative developments during the 112
th Congress. It will not be updated. Also see: CRS Report R42917, Mexico’s New Administration: Priorities and Key Issues in U.S.- Mexican Relations, 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: January 29, 2013
Number of Pages: 42
Order Number: RL32724
Price: $29.95

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