Biden, Lopez Obrador to seek new phase in bilateral ties

Washington, Feb 28 (efe-epa).- US President Joe Biden and his Mexican counterpart, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, on Monday morning will hold their first “virtual” meeting, to be marked by policy changes in Washington with the new Democratic administration and focusing on immigration and the economy.

This will be Biden’s second bilateral meeting since taking office on Jan. 20, after the one he held last week with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“(T)he two leaders will discuss cooperation on migration, joint development efforts in Southern Mexico and Central America, COVID-19 recovery, and economic cooperation,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in a statement.

The meeting, which will be held virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will be aimed at pushing the reset button on relations between the two neighboring countries.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a virtual meeting with Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, said that it is difficult to think of a more important bilateral relationship or to identify two countries who are so extraordinarily intertwined and really have a shared destiny.

Biden had announced that his first moves on immigration would be designed to dismantle the controversial and much-criticized legacy of his predecessor, Donald Trump, and he announced a set of executive orders directed at reuniting separated families, restoring the asylum system and working with regional partners to address the causes of migration.

Two weeks ago, Biden said that he had promised to correct what many progressives see as the negligence of the Trump administration and return justice, humanity and order to the US immigration system.

Despite Trump’s aggressive anti-immigration rhetoric, Lopez Obrador – widely known as AMLO – managed to maintain a good relationship with the former US president, although sometimes he had to bow to pressure from Washington.

That was the case with the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program, whereby more than 60,000 migrants requesting asylum in the US were returned across the border into Mexico to await processing by US immigration authorities, and with the US demand that Mexico reinforce its own southern border to halt the arrival of migrants from Central America – most of whom were bent on getting to the US.

Starting on Feb. 19, the US resumed attending to the asylum petitioners who had been returned to Mexico under the MPP program and Biden has promised to allocate resources to revitalize the economy in Central America with an eye toward reducing one of the prime causes of illegal migration.

The conversation between the two leaders will take place a few days after Biden presented his ambitious immigration reform proposal, which ultimately will have to be debated in Congress.

Among its main elements is the launching of an eight-year process whereby the 11 million undocumented migrants living in the US may obtain US citizenship, as well as authorizing immediate legal residence for undocumented migrants who were brought to the US as children – the so-called “Dreamers” – beneficiaries of the Temporary Protected Status program and agricultural laborers.

This is the most ambitious attempt to push forward with immigration reform since 2013, when the bill backed by then-President Barack Obama, whom Biden served under as vice president from 2009-2017, foundered in the House of Representatives despite having been approved in the Senate.

In this economic environment, Biden has come into office with the revamped trilateral trade agreement among Mexico, Canada and the US – the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which Washington views as a solid opportunity to strengthen trade relations.

The Mexian economy is heavily dependent on the US, since Washington is its main trade partner and the country which buys three-quarters of its exports, not to mention where some 38 million Mexicans live and work, thus constituting a huge source of remittances.

One of the elements of the trade pact is for Mexico to implement labor reform that democratizes its unions, to debug its collective agreements and to increase wages with an eye toward preventing unfair competition with the US, something to which the current US administration will be especially attentive.

In fact, Biden’s pick for US Foreign Trade Representatives, Katherine Tai, was one of the moving forces behind drafting the labor clauses in the former North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement replaced.

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