Last Sunday Mexicans rejoiced in the election victory of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) (see image above) as their next President. On Monday they were in despair over their effort to get to the Men’s World Cup quarter-finals, losing to Brazil 0-2. Today, as in many past and anticipated future days, they are butting heads with Trump since he announced his candidacy, criticizing its migrants, threatening to abandon the North American Free Trade Agreement and promising to build a wall between the two countries.
All off this has an oversized impact on New Jersey. With Trump’s trade war in progress NJ imports of Mexican products will be more expensive for us, and as Trump increases tariffs for export, the higher cost to Mexicans will reduce our sales. By November, Latinos will comprise close to 13% of all voters in New Jersey. Mexicans are the second largest group of Hispanics, and the fastest growing community in New Jersey. There is little good news regarding immigration. In the last many years PRI and PAN were the two dominant parties. However, in a staggeringly successful manner, AMLO and his coalition shattered the status quo with uncertain outcomes.
The NJ exports to Mexico total $2.6 Billion and our imports from Mexico total $4.7 billion. What that means is that the cost to consumers of Mexican products sold in NJ will go up substantially, with little or no increase for jobs in our state. The cost of the products we export to Mexico will go up for Mexicans reducing our sales and leading to a cut in the related job force. The 455% increase in New Jersey’s exports to Mexico under NAFTA (trade between the US and Mexico) accounted for 8.1% of New Jersey’s exports worldwide in 2017. Over 140,800 jobs in New Jersey depend on trade with Mexico.
The two nations, as well as Canada, the European Union and China, are at sharp odds over trade. As Trump ratchets up American tariffs, the others retaliate. Even though AMLO has spoken favorably about NAFTA, he is not a free-trader by heart. If Trump pulls out of NAFTA, López Obrador likely won’t feel obligated to offer concessions in hopes of bringing him back. Given the escalating threats emanating from the White House and the lack of a clear strategy toward resolving the president’s differences, the outcome is uncertain but ominous and bad news for us in the Garden State.
There will likely be more support from Mexico for its immigrants already in New Jersey. Mexicans have increased from 33,000 in 1990 to 260,000 in 2014, represents 15% of Latinos in the state. AMLO is promising that all 50 Mexican consulates in the United States will help to defend migrants caught up in the American legal system. However, there has already been a decrease in Mexican migrants crossing the border which will likely continue as the US border patrol increasingly captures Mexican migrants and immediately returns them back across the border.
Trump has trashed the US “Good Neighbor Policy” and replaced it with fear-mongering and ill-conceived initiatives. Without a comprehensive immigration solution those Mexicans living here unauthorized will continue to be under constant threat of arrest and deportation. They will also find it difficult to bring relatives to the US. New Jersey which relies on Mexican labor will have to look elsewhere.
Regarding Trump’s “beautiful wall,” AMLO has said, “The wall and the demagoguery of patriotism are no match for the dignity and humanity of the American people.” Fortunately Trump can expect not a penny from Mexico for this stupid endeavor.
In the US and in NJ we have have a two-party system which dominates our elections. It is similar in the Mexican presidential elections where PAN and PRI have ruled the day. However, AMLO obliterated both parties and won with a coalition on the left, one on the right (evangelical) and MORENA. He won 53% of the vote with promises for more equality, wealth and freedom. For the moment we can only dream in NJ about a third party or coalition of Independent parties winning a major election.
The two issues which overwhelmed the election were the high level of violence and corruption, not Trump. Though a leftist, AMLO has drawn comparisons to Trump for his nationalist impulses, populist rhetoric and combative personality. But from time to time he has also displayed a pugnaciousness toward Mexico’s northern neighbor and has left no doubt that he is prepared to go toe-to-toe with Trump to defend Mexico’s interests. Journalist Gwynne Dyer, writing on Common Dreams said: “Obrador will also annoy Washington greatly. It’s quite likely that within a year the US intelligence services will be tasked with the job of finding ways to bring him down.” Perhaps that’s a bit extreme, but it is certainly likely that with any disagreements, Trump will belittle AMLO and Mexicans and only exacerbate relations, resulting in no good for New Jersey.