Trump to Meet With Mexico’s President to Discuss Trade Deal

In what would be his first international trip since taking office, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he’s very likely to meet soon with U.S. counterpart Donald Trump in a politically risky bet for the Mexican populist as U.S. elections near.

Lopez Obrador said Wednesday that he wanted to meet with Trump to promote their new trade deal, as well as to thank him for sending ventilators to Mexico. The date of the visit was still uncertain since he’d also like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to join in order to launch the North American trade agreement known as USMCA, he said.

“It is very important for us participate in the beginning of this historical agreement, which is very timely because it will help us in the recovery of our economy and the creation of jobs,” Lopez Obrador said during his daily press conference.

Lopez Obrador is betting that Mexico’s economic recovery is tied to the U.S. as both countries face what analysts project will be their deepest recessions since the Great Depression. But a meeting with Trump could backfire.

Former Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan called the meeting “a colossal error,” where Lopez Obrador could be seen as supporting Trump’s re-election bid, especially if Lopez Obrador does not seek to also meet with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

‘Interpreted by Many’

“Trump is only interested in using the Mexican president as a theater prop in light of the elections,” Sarukhan wrote on Twitter. A visit by Lopez Obrador “will be interpreted by many here as an accolade to the most polarizing president in modern U.S. history.”

Despite Trump’s history of using Mexico as a political punching bag, Lopez Obrador has said the U.S. president has always treated him with respect. After threatening Mexico with tariffs last year, Lopez Obrador deployed troops to deter migration by Central Americans across Mexico to the U.S..

On Tuesday, Trump said Mexico’s aid had helped drive down illegal border crossings during a visit to a U.S. Border Patrol station in Yuma, Arizona.

“If you look at so many of the different crimes that come through the border, they’re stopped. We’ve implemented groundbreaking agreements with Mexico,” Trump said during a round table on border security. “I want to thank the President of Mexico. He’s really a great guy. I think he’ll be coming into Washington pretty soon.”

The White House did not comment on when the meeting might occur. Lopez Obrador said he’ll inform the public about the exact date of the U.S. trip in coming days.

Unlike his predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto, who made nine international trips, Lopez Obrador has not traveled abroad since he took office in December 2018 and a Washington meeting would be his first trip out of the country in nearly three years.

The famously thrifty Lopez Obrador only flies commercial, raising questions of how he will get to the U.S. since there are no direct flights currently operating between Mexico City and Washington.

While still around 60%, Lopez Obrador’s approval ratings have been falling amid criticism over the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak as well as how he has handled the country’s economic slump by embracing even more devoutly his drive to cut government spending.

Pena Nieto, who met with Trump during his election campaign in 2016, was widely ridiculed for trying to appease Trump even as he was campaigning on the need to build a wall on the southern border.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard followed the president’s announcement of the upcoming trip with a Tweet where he said Mexico had proposed a meeting with leaders from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico to “start a new trilateral period of well being and economic growth.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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