President Trump and other world leaders have arrived in Buenos Aires for the 2018 G20 Leaders’ Summit. As the summit starts, there are a number of subplots worth watching over the course of the next few days. The recent clash between Ukrainian and Russian ships in the Black Sea region, concerns about whether or not the US-China trade war will escalate, and the continuing blowback of the Khashoggi Murder are three of the issues G20 leaders will be contending with.
Kicking off the summit was an announcement that the United States, Canada, and Mexico have completed and signed a trade agreement. The United States, Mexico, and Canada Agreement (USMCA) will replace NAFTA. When President Trump took office restructuring or even replacing NAFTA was a top priority. After two years of negotiations, and some arm-twisting, the new agreement has become a reality.
The fate of President Trump’s planned meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Buenos Aires is uncertain right now. Trump announced he was canceling the meeting in response to tensions between Russia and Ukraine. The Kremlin, however, has said nothing about the talk having been cancelled, leaving the fate of the meeting up in the air.
Interaction between Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will be closely watched this weekend as well. The two leaders will meet during the summit, raising hopes that the ongoing trade war between the world’s two largest economies can be deescalated, and the souring relations between China and the United States reversed. A ceasefire on tariffs would be especially welcomed, although one is unlikely to be reached this weekend. Trump views tariffs as leverage and an effective weapon. He will not be prepared to give it up so easily. The US-China relationship is complex, and a prime example of economic and geopolitical interests clashing head on.
It would seem, for the moment, that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will receive a pass on the Khashoggi murder. The G20’s attention this weekend will be on the global economy, climate and energy concerns, and other similar issues. Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi agents at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul is a topic to be avoided and understandably so. The G20 is an economic club at its heart. As a general rule, dubious political matters are avoided at all costs, even though the global media would love nothing more than for Salman, and Saudi Arabia to receive a comeuppance of sorts in Buenos Aires.
In a move that was expected by many political observers and members of the media for days, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has cancelled a meeting with President Donald Trump scheduled for next week. Trump’s signing of executive orders authorizing the construction of a wall between Mexico and the US was a prime reason for Nieto’s cancellation, though the timing of the order also played a part. Trump signed the order on Wednesday, a short time before Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray and an accompanying delegation arrived at the White House for scheduled talks. Many Mexicans saw this as an insult aimed at their nation’s efforts to reach a compromise with Trump over the long-planned wall before he took action on it.
Since Trump’s election the level of outrage has been growing south of the border. The wall, once viewed as an instrument of campaign rhetoric, has become nearly inevitable. This, coupled together with President Trump’s other executive actions aimed at curbing illegal immigration, as well as his insistence that Mexico pay for the wall, has Mexico on edge. Via Twitter, Nieto reaffirmed Mexico’s “willingness to work with the United States to reach agreements that benefit both nations.” Whether that statement was sincere, or born out of political necessity is unclear. The United States and Mexico share a 2,000 mile long border and trade between the two nations is especially essential for Mexico. Along with the wall and immigration issues, trade has become a bone of contention between the new US administration and Mexico City. NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Act, is something else that Trump spoke at length about during the campaign. Specifically, how it has been largely a one-sided deal benefitting Mexico at a cost to US companies and employees. He has promised to reconstruct the deal to make it more balanced and this is likely causing a large amount of anxiety among Mexicans.
The wall and US immigration are areas where Nieto has to tread carefully. By rights, both are internal affairs of the United States and Mexico has no right to attempt to inject its influence. While it’s true that many of the immigration measures that Trump is proposing will target Mexican immigrants, it needs to be remembered that these are immigrants who are in the United States illegally. As for how to strengthen its borders, it is the right of the US government to decide the best way.
There’s another element involved in this unfolding standoff between US and Mexican leadership. Nieto’s approval ratings are at a record low, right now hovering around 12 percent. Tacitly objecting to Trump’s immigration plan is not an option if Nieto wishes to flip the direction his approval ratings are moving in. Vociferous contention to the wall will play well with the average Mexican voter. Yet, it has to be said again that the future US immigration is an internal affair of the United States which will be decided in Washington DC by President Trump. Not in Mexico City by President Nieto.