Cordiality marks 1st meeting between US, Mexican presidents

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Mexico City, Mar 2 (efe-epa).- The presidents of Mexico and the United States held an initial virtual meeting that was free of any type of discord, although no agreement was reached on the sharing of Covid-19 vaccines and they avoided discussion of Mexico’s plans for a controversial electricity sector overhaul.

“Generally speaking, it was a meeting that was friendly and respectful and with a lot of emphasis on development cooperation. There were no disagreements. I can tell you categorically: not a single disagreement,” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, popularly known as AMLO, said at his regular morning news conference at the National Palace here Tuesday, a day after the meeting with Joe Biden.

AMLO had frequently spoken of his cordial relationship with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, although tensions surged over the immigration issue until Mexico took decisive action to sharply curb the northward movement of migrants.

Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, who traveled to Washington several times in search of a compromise, took to social media to hail the “easy and cordial” communication with Biden, who took office on Jan. 20, and tout the “rebirth of a common vision in North America.”

“It’s a good start. The communication flowed,” said Guadalupe Gonzalez, an international relations expert at El Colegio de Mexico, a public university in Mexico City.

She added that technical teams from both countries had skillfully laid the groundwork for the meeting beforehand.

The meeting’s agenda included the challenging topic of Covid-19 vaccine distribution, a potentially thorny issue after Mexico spoke out on behalf of Latin American countries at the United Nations over the alleged lack of equitable access to the vaccines.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, had played down any expectations that an agreement might be reached during the meeting to give Mexico access to US-produced vaccines.

But the Mexican president later said the two heads of state had addressed the subject during Monday’s meeting.

“President Biden’s attitude was one of a lot of understanding of our proposal, and the teams from the two countries will see what’s possible and when,” said the president of Mexico, whose country has been forced to buy the Pfizer vaccine from that American multinational’s factory in Belgium due to export restrictions in the US.

Lopez Obrador said it is too early to say an agreement has been reached or that no accord was struck, adding that the two men had a positive talk on the matter.

Agreement between the two governments is most evident on the immigration issue, since Biden has halted construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border and is pushing for an immigration overhaul that will regularize the status of the estimated 11 million undocumented migrants in the US, most of them of Mexican origin.

Mexico’s president said Tuesday that the US will analyze his proposal for a work visa program for Mexicans and Central Americans and that the two leaders revisited a development plan for Central America that Trump had disdained in favor of a hardline, enforcement-heavy approach to immigration.

“He laughed when I told him he had generated a lot of expectation because he’s seen as the migrant’s president,” AMLO said.

Biden’s views on immigration stand in stark contrast to those of Trump, who in 2019 used the threat of tariffs to pressure Mexico to close its southern border with Guatemala and agree to allow migrants to reside in its territory while awaiting resolution of their asylum cases before US courts.

The friction-free start to the Biden-AMLO bilateral relationship also was seen in their decision to skirt the latter’s controversial electricity sector overhaul, a regulatory change that will give priority to state-owned utility CFE over private power generators and has sparked tensions between US companies and the Mexican government.

The bill, which will effectively scrap key parts of a 2013 energy overhaul that elevated the role of private and foreign investors in Mexico’s electricity sector, is expected to receive final congressional approval in a Senate vote this week.

During the press conference, Lopez Obrador said he told Biden that Mexico is seeking to achieve “energy self-sufficiency” and that the US head of state listened but did not comment.

The electricity issue will undoubtedly create “conflict and tensions” between the two governments, but the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement has mechanisms in place to resolve them, Gonzalez said, adding that there was therefore no need to discuss those issues during the virtual meeting.

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