As part of his final moment as Mexico’s outgoing leader, President Enrique Peña Nieto stood beside Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the G20 summit in Buenos Aries as the trio announced the end of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the dawning of the new USMCA (United States, Mexico Canada Agreement). Less than 24 hours later in Mexico City, leftist/populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known affectionately as AMLO) was inaugurated as Mexico’s President in a ceremony in which he promised radical change to Mexico’s political and economic system with an anti-corruption, pro-growth and pro-jobs message resounding strongly with his supporters in attendance.
Throughout his campaign, the veteran leftist who finally broke the threshold of electoral victory at a Presidential level, consciously positioned himself as the anti-Trump in a nation whose population tends to view Trump as something of a racist against Mexicans. Yet in spite of this, the two populists from different nations and different sides of the political spectrum have more in common than one might imagine.
While AMLO is more frequently compared to a less radical version of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro than to Donald Trump, both AMLO and Trump have a vested interest in creating and keeping high paying and stable jobs in Mexico – albeit for very different reasons. One of Donald Trump’s flagship policies is ending the culture of frequent illegal immigration from the Mexican border into the USA. This includes both Mexican citizens and Central American citizens trying to cross into the USA via Mexico. Of course, one of the reasons that Mexicans in particular seek to build a life in the USA is because of greater job stability, generally higher paying jobs and greater social security than in Mexico.
AMLO has correctly identified the reasons why many Mexicans seek to emigrate north of the border and if he is able to accomplish the economic reforms he has promised, it could go a long way towards decreasing the numbers of Mexicans seeking to move to the USA. At the same time, as Trump aims to bring back many American owned factories belonging to companies that have relocated some of their operations to Mexico, this too may fit in with AMLO’s traditionally leftist plan to create new jobs that are largely based on indigenous business models rather than neo-liberal “globalist” ones.
Finally, as China and AMLO’s government develop the kind of positive relationship that both sides have hinted at, one could see Asian powers creating jobs in Mexico in a manner more in keeping with AMLO’s ethos while US factories relocate back north of the border in what Trump and AMLO could both view as a win-win situation.
Of course, because AMLO wants a productive, patriotic and youthful workforce, it is counter-intuitively in AMLO’s interests to keep Mexico’s youth from heading north of the border and potentially creating both a brain drain and a skills drain. Here too, for different reasons, both AMLO and Trump favour the same outcomes as a result of different policies. Already, AMLO’s consultations regarding the USMCA while he was President Elect indicate that the prospect of cooperation between two unlikely neighbouring leaders might be far higher than one could expect.
As AMLO rejects neo-liberal economics from the left, while Trump does the same from the right, the two might actually agree on more fundamental desired outcomes in terms of bilateral relations than could be ascertained simply by viewing the leaders through a traditional left vs. right paradigm.
Beyond these areas of policy outcome alignment, there is the wild card factor that has seen Trump develop many unusual friendships with follow world leaders, with his relationship with Kim Jong-un of the DPRK being the most noteworthy. While clearly AMLO and Trump will have areas of disagreement, perhaps even sharp disagreement, because both men want Mexicans to prosper in Mexico rather than in the United States (for totally different reasons), the points of commonality between Trump and AMLO will be far more significant and interesting than their more predicable and mundane points of divergence.