Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador began his trip to the United States — his first foreign trip as president — with visits Wednesday to the Lincoln Memorial and the statue of Benito Juarez, a former president and national hero in Mexico.
Later in the day, he will be at the White House for talks with President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly taken shots at Mexico and Mexican migrants to rally his base. The visit, coming just four months before U.S. elections, has many Mexicans cringing.
Trump has insulted them, threatened crippling tariffs to strong-arm Mexico into playing an uncomfortable role in U.S. immigration policy and insisted they will pay for a border wall meant to keep migrants out of the U.S.
But López Obrador has had a surprisingly warm relationship with Trump. He likes to point out that more recently Trump helped Mexico reach a deal with other oil-producing nations to cut production and aided Mexico in obtaining more ventilators to face the coronavirus pandemic. Both presidents talk about a blossoming friendship that seems to stem from their pursuit of unapologetically nationalist agendas.
The two presidents also will discuss the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that replaced a trade accord Trump said was a bad deal and could give him an opening to bash former Vice President Joe Biden for voting in favor of the old North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA is blamed for prompting U.S. companies to shift manufacturing to Mexico, where labor costs were lower.
Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said López Obrador and Trump will sign a joint declaration of friendship and cooperation. He said the USMCA is going to boost automobile and other manufacturing, agriculture and dairy farmers and cattle ranchers.
“As the three countries respect this deal then you’re gonna have an explosion of entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship and new innovation in North America,” Kudlow said on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends.” “One percentage point of GDP as this thing gets going per year — couple hundred thousand jobs. I don’t know why people don’t pay more attention to it. You know, we’re looking for growth following the pandemic.”
It’s not a state visit, but López Obrador will be treated to a special dinner at the White House attended by business leaders from both nations.
With the U.S. looking to reduce its supply chain in China, Mexico is well-positioned to step into the void, senior administration officials told reporters on a call outlining the visit. Cooperation between the two countries allowed the flow of goods to continue across the U.S.-Mexico border despite shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, they said on the condition of anonymity to discuss the visit.