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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mexico’s Peña Nieto Administration: Priorities and Key Issues in U.S.-Mexican Relations

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Congress has maintained significant interest in neighboring Mexico, a close ally and top trade
partner that shares a nearly 2,000-mile border with the United States. On December 1, 2012, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) retook the Mexican presidency after 12 years in opposition, leaving analysts wondering how differently PRI President Enrique Peña Nieto will govern than his PRI predecessors, who ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000. Supporters maintain that Peña Nieto heads a new PRIgovernment that is free from the corruption that characterized the party in the past and is enacting bold reforms that proved elusive for the last two National Action Party (PAN) administrations. Skeptics question how Peña Nieto will remain independent from old-time PRI power brokers and how he will challenge PRI interest groups resistant to change.

President Peña Nieto has announced a reformist agenda with specific proposals under five pillars: reducing violence; combating poverty; boosting growth; reforming education; and fostering social responsibility. He signed a “Pact for Mexico” with the leaders of the PAN and leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) that has paved the way for the enactment of education and telecommunications reforms. The Peña Nieto government has just introduced an energy reform proposal that would allow Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) to form profit-sharing partnerships  with private companies. Fiscal reforms to increase tax revenues are to follow. Both proposals could test the Pacts ability to prevent legislative gridlock.

U.S.-Mexican relations are evolving. During his May 2013 visit to Mexico, President Obama embraced President Peña Nietos desire to bolster economic ties and focus on new issues, including education. U.S.-Mexican security cooperation has continued; future efforts may increasingly focus on crime prevention and judicial reform. Bilateral cooperation may have contributed to the July capture of the leader of Los Zetas. However, there has been friction caused by limits Mexico has placed on U.S. involvement in law enforcement and intelligence operations and the recent release of a drug kingpin imprisoned in Mexico for killing a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent. If implemented, the Trans-boundary Hydrocarbons  Agreement signed in February 2012 on managing oil resources in the Gulf of Mexico could  create opportunities for energy cooperation. The Peña Nieto government has supported efforts to enact comprehensive immigration reform in the United States, but urged U.S. policymakers not to militarize the U.S.-Mexico border.

Key Policy Issues: This year, immigration and border security have been at the center of the congressional agenda. The Senate passed S. 744, a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes additional funding for border security, legalization for certain unauthorized immigrants, and changes to the temporary and permanent immigration systems. In contrast, House committees have taken up a series of discrete immigration measures (H.R. 1417, H.R. 1772, H.R. 2131, H.R. 1773, and H.R. 2278). The House passed legislation, H.R. 1613, which would provide for implementation of the U.S.-Mexico Trans-boundary Hydrocarbons Agreement. The Senate has  yet to consider related legislation on the agreement (S. 812). U.S.-Mexican energy cooperation and the prospects for reforming PEMEX have generated congressional interest. Congress is also examining how Mexicos participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations may impact U.S.-Mexico economic relations under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Language included in the House-passed version of the FY2013 farm bill, H.R. 2642,
addresses an ongoing U.S.-Mexico water dispute.

Date of Report: August 15, 2013
Number of Pages: 30
Order Number: R42917
Price: $29.95

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