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U.S.-Mexico Forum 2025

The election of Joseph Biden as President of the United States and the COVID-19 crisis created a prime opportunity to rethink and redesign the relationship between Mexico and the United States. It was with this objective that we created the U.S.-Mexico Forum 2025. A group of Mexican and U.S. scholars, practitioners, and experts undertook the task of proposing a course for the bilateral relationship for the four years (2021-2025) during which President Biden and Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador would govern their respective countries.

The Forum consists of five working groups: migration, security and public health, trade and economy, energy and sustainable development, and strategic diplomacy. Each group created a white paper that follows a similar approach: a discussion of the state of affairs in 2020, the aspirations for 2025, and a strategy for achieving those aspirations. The white papers were written by each working group’s leaders and discussed extensively among the group.

The Forum’s aim is to encourage cooperation between both countries and to avoid, as much as possible, the frictions that can emerge in a relationship as intense, complex, and asymmetric as the one between the United States and Mexico. The members of the forum are convinced that greater coordination among distinct actors on both sides of the border will benefit the citizens of both countries. We cannot leave the processes of bilateral integration to the whims of market forces or simple fate. Both federal governments should make a conscious and deliberate effort to deepen cooperation. The papers published here present a vision of how to improve the bilateral relationship over the next four years, and specific recommendations for doing so.

Three consensus conclusions emerged from the Forum’s discussions:

  1. Biden’s arrival to the White House represents an important window of opportunity to deepen cooperation between the two countries. He is a leader who knows Mexico well, and he sees the bilateral relationship as one of enormous potential. As he said when he visited Mexico City in 2016, “This is about what we can do with Mexico. I mean that sincerely. We need you as much as I hope you think you need us.”
  2. López Obrador and his diplomatic team will nevertheless need to take the initiative and capitalize on the goodwill and knowledge of Biden’s team, and ensure that their experience with Mexico serves to help resolve issues such as the partial closure of the border.
  3. Lastly, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is the central instrument for coordinating economic and commercial interactions between the countries. Respecting its clauses and prioritizing its implementation is essential to moving the bilateral relationship forward.

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Trade, Economy, and Work

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U.S.-MEXICO FORUM 2025: Trade, Economy, and Work

The economies of the United States and Mexico have become inextricably linked. For both countries, the other is their top trading partner, with an annual value of $616.38 billion in 2019. Beyond cross-border trade, however, our global competitiveness is linked due to the depth of manufacturing integration. As a result, job creation and export growth are largely regional enterprises. Well over a billion dollars in commerce crosses the border each day, and the GDP of the six Mexican and four U.S. border states is larger than the GDP of all but the three largest countries in the world. 

The new USMCA is the essential instrument for bilateral cooperation on economic issues, but alone it is not a viable strategy for domestic economic growth. For both López Obrador and Biden, achieving job creation and growth requires an approach that embraces the complementarities of our economies and works toward building a 21st Century economy that works for everyone in each nation.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many companies to reevaluate their global production networks and prioritize supply chain security and resilience. Reshoring has tremendous potential to benefit both countries. Rather than relocating jobs from one country to the other, research shows that companies tend to create jobs on both sides of the border as they expand their investment in the regional economy.  In the United States, some five million jobs depend on trade with Mexico, and a similarly large number of jobs in Mexico depend on trade with the United States. To expand the percentage of global GDP generated in our region and to further related job creation and capitalize on new opportunities, leaders must address issues surrounding coordination in essential industries, labor law reforms, and a lack of both high-level dialogue and clear mechanisms for local involvement in the binational economic relationship. 

Key Takeaways

  • Restore a cabinet-level economic dialogue to institutionalize cooperation and drive progress across the many facets of the bilateral economic agenda. The High-Level Economic Dialogue should be used to generate synergy between local, state, and federal actors from across numerous agencies in both countries, providing the impetus to break through bottlenecks. 
  • The first component of any updated U.S.-Mexico economic agenda must be to respond to the challenges (and opportunities) presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and related recession. The United States and Mexico must jointly design an emergency plan concerning the impact of cross-border supply chains and logistics capacity to address the current pandemic and in support of future emergency response.
  • North American governments must align their definitions of essential industries to increase their likelihood of attracting investment from businesses looking to strengthen their supply chain security and resilience.
  • Mexico’s effective implementation of labor reform is crucial to take full advantage of its proximity to the U.S. Mexico’s competitive labor costs could make it attractive as an onshoring resource. 
  • USMCA provides Mexico an opportunity to take on production in the automotive sector and reduce the manufacturing dependency the region has with China. 
  • The Free Trade commission must clarify the attributions and the relationship between the committees created by the USMCA and use the purview supervision mechanisms to foster trilateral cooperation on shared priorities. 
  • Put sustainable development and inclusive growth at the center of the bilateral economic agenda. To maintain public support for regional integration, these shared challenges must be adequately represented.

Energy and Sustainability

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U.S.-MEXICO FORUM 2025: Energy and Sustainability

The Biden Administration’s pledge to achieve net-zero by 2050 and a carbon-free power sector by 2035 moves the share of global emissions in countries with net-zero pledges to 66%. However few countries have policies, laws, and regulations in place that will allow them to achieve this goal and to succeed, Mexico and the U.S. will need to undertake accelerated legislative and regulatory activity to make net-zero a reality. 

Such a move will require adapting their energy systems and economies to meet net-zero emissions. This change is made more feasible by moves by financial institutions globally, and particularly in Europe and the U.S., which have made ESG a guidepost for investment, driving capital away from oil and gas and underscoring the importance of clean energy technology. The rule of law and transparency are crucial to driving investment in hydrocarbons and energy transition, but the United States and Mexico may not agree on how the key legal commercial instrument between the two countries – the USMCA – incorporates the needed Mexican Energy Reform. The two countries need to reach an understanding on this issue, or it will drive away capital investment. 

Likewise, technology is fundamental to success in reducing costs and emissions in the energy sector. The U.S. network of seventeen national labs is perhaps the world’s strongest network of energy research laboratories, and cooperation between the U.S. national labs and Mexican universities and the Mexican Institute of Petroleum have the potential to speed the rate of adoption of new technologies and processes and thus speed the migration to net-zero economies. Because the U.S. and Mexico have integrated supply chains for industry and highly integrated energy infrastructure, furthering the need to a coordinated move to a net-zero world built on lower emissions, including the large-scale adoption of electric and zero emissions transportation. But a move away from oil will create dislocation in both countries that create job loss, and the energy transition needs to be a just transition in both countries and not create or worsen economic hardship, especially on the most vulnerable.

Key Takeaways

  • Establish a Bilateral Task Force on Energy that will ensure quarterly engagement between energy ministers/secretaries and supporting institutions and that will engage the private sector to address fundamental issues such as the interpretation of the USMCA, mobilize financing support for trade and investment, and guide technical cooperation between U.S. national labs and Mexican institutions.
  • Establish an industry task force on the future of automotives, focused on preserving and creating jobs, that will address increased electric vehicle demand and what that means for integrated U.S.-Mexico supply chains and labor forces, as well cost-effective production energy systems.
  • Establish a task force on joint investments that can bring together energy innovation in the power sector with financing from institutions like the DFC, USAID, TDA, and EXIM, while leveraging investment innovation from the private sector. 
  • Create a forum for researchers and oil and gas companies to cooperate directly with each other and with major consuming industries on technologies ranging from digitalization to carbon capture and storage that will reduce costs and emission in producing oil and gas. 
  • Create a bilateral Task Force on a Just Energy Transition that identifies key areas for investment and lessons learned, including: areas under stress due to transitional job losses, target areas for renewable development to address energy access, family support mechanisms for energy bills, and forests and agricultural lands that can absorb carbon or reduce emissions from deforestation with sales of the offsets addressing social welfare for the poor.

Security and Public Health

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U.S.-MEXICO FORUM 2025: Security and Public Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that unilateral approaches and narrow understandings of the dynamics of cross border security fall short of securing the lives and wellbeing of citizens: disease, drugs, and guns are threats that all cross borders. The Biden and López Obrador administrations understand the value of policies that address harm to all of society and especially the most vulnerable and will have a unique opportunity to reset and reconfigure bilateral security understandings. 

Current security cooperation is framed by the fourteen-year-old Mérida Initiative. Since its reformulation in 2014, the program deepened and broadened its goals under the principle of “shared responsibility.” The inefficacy of repressive and kingpin-focused policies has been exacerbated by legal changes in Mexico that limit international cooperation. There are ongoing concerns regarding high-level corruption, underscored by the arrest and then release of General Salvador Cienfuegos. And intelligence exchange and inter-agency coordination are constrained by a lack of mutually accepted policies, constraining effective response to security threats which have largely been defined by drugs and guns, ignoring the great threats posed by disease.

The current pandemic has brought to the fore the differential impact that insecurity has on different sectors of society based on gender, race, ethnicity, age, and class, on both sides of the border. It has also highlighted the need to include the public health perspective when thinking about security issues including the acknowledgement that crime and violence has a human cost in terms of life expectancy, mental health, physical harm, and the erosion of community ties. The next four years offer the opportunity to reconfigure security policies to incorporate public health in a way that will address the major causes of mortality in both countries.

Key Takeaways

  • Create a bilateral coordinating group to align priorities for both nations with a joint U.S.-Mexico taskforce on fentanyl disruption and bilateral units for monitoring piracy of medical supplies high priorities.
  • Maintain or increase funding for USAID programs supporting grassroots citizen-led efforts in areas affected by chronic violence.
  • Incorporate evidence-based and life-saving public health interventions as solutions to some public safety problems such as applying a harm reduction approach with drug users on both sides of the border. Use WHO guidelines for addressing homicides as a health crisis.
  • Improve health data collection and sharing capabilities in Mexico, developing record keeping systems similar to those used by the CDC which include police reports, medical examiner files, and hospital charts that enable standardized data exchange with appropriate privacy protections.
  • Reactivate binational mechanisms for public health coordination.
  • Develop federal, state, and local programs on both sides of the border that address structural and social drivers of harm and mainstream gender in their design, with an emphasis on interventions that address root causes including poverty and marginalization.

Migration

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U.S.-MEXICO FORUM 2025: Migration

Migration and migrants are central to the health of our economies, especially during a period of recovery. The change of administration in the United States opens opportunities for a new approach to managing regional migration that emphasizes cooperation between the Mexican and U.S. governments. This bilateral cooperation is key to managing regional migration flows and can foster a safe, orderly, and regular flow of migrants between the two countries and throughout the larger region that includes Central America. 

To date the U.S.-Mexico collaboration around migration has focused almost exclusively on more robust enforcement and reducing access to asylum in the United States, especially for Central Americans passing through Mexico. Although couched in collaborative terms, the policy decisions have been largely dictated by the U.S. government — with the Mexican government largely following suit, though sometimes changing the terms of collaboration based on long-held policy principles. 

A different approach to collaboration between the two governments could emphasize enforcement in tandem with efforts to open legal pathways for asylum and citizenship, ensure protection closer to home, and invest in changing the conditions that spur irregular migration. And this collaboration could be extended to domestic efforts in each country to promote the regularization and integration of migrants. Both the U.S. and Mexican governments have an interest in developing sustainable strategies for managing migration, ensuring migrants have a positive impact on their new homes, and addressing the long-term conditions that drive migration. 

Key Takeaways

  • Regularizing and Integrating Immigrants: The Biden Administration and the U.S. Congress should prioritize regularizing migrants already living in the country such with programs such as DACA and TPS. Mexico should enact policies that support the integration or reintegration of migrants to the Mexican society.
  • Providing Opportunities for Labor Migration: The U.S. needs to work closely with governments in Central America to reform the seasonal worker programs to encourage hiring workers in Mexico and Central America. Mexico should facilitate access to work-based visas for employers that want to recruit workers in Central America. Both countries should provide access to visas, which will create opportunities for more legal migration.
  • Ensuring Robust Humanitarian Protection Mechanisms: It is crucial for both countries to ensure a broad spectrum of international humanitarian protection mechanisms to those in need of such protection, including but not limited to asylum. The U.S. should redesign its asylum system at the border in a way that ensures timely and fair decision-making including ending the use of Title 42 expulsions and end the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), allowing those currently in the program to have their immigration hearings expedited. Mexico needs to strengthen its asylum system with the support of the U.S. government.
  • Developing Rules-Based Enforcement Strategies: Professionalize border enforcement protocols in both nations to ensure safety, order, legality, and the minimum use of force. The U.S. should develop alternatives to detention except for high-risk criminal response and enact less restrictive settings to monitor migrants who have pending immigration cases and take added precautions in the treatment of minors including family registries with the help of neutral NGOs or faith-based groups. Mexico should develop a strategy to institutionalize the INM’s functioning. The U.S. National Guard should be professionalized in dealing with migrant issues if it will continue to play a role in border control. 
  • Investing in Development and Rule of Law: Jointly, Lopez Obrador and Biden should design a Development Plan for Central America. The two governments have a window of opportunity to lead an international campaign to ensure long-term changes in Central America that will help generate development and to build rule of law, including an ambitious campaign against corruption that empowers local civil society.

Strategic Diplomacy

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U.S.-MEXICO FORUM 2025: Strategic Diplomacy

When Joe Biden took office on January 20, 2021, a new window of opportunity opened for the U.S.-Mexico relationship. The Biden Administration can redefine the diplomatic cooperation ensuring that the relationship between the two countries becomes a source of prosperity and security for citizens of both nations. To do this, we must together imagine new paths and improve those that already exist. This is essential to secure the safety and prosperity of North America. Solving regional political and security challenges will require multilateral strategies and new narratives about each other.

Under Trump, the bilateral agenda focused almost entirely on two dimensions — commerce and migration — and Biden’s presidency means a return to a relationship that is multifaceted and multi-actor. This renewed relationship will rely on existing structures: a strong Mexican and U.S. consular network in each other’s countries, robust economic connections, and a history of high-level dialogue between the two countries. Simultaneously, however, the relationship will face numerous challenges including the prevalence of an anti-immigrant discourse in U.S. politics, and Mexico’s prioritization of domestic issues.

There is a huge disconnect between U.S. perceptions of Mexico and the reality on the ground in Mexico and vice versa. While a majority of U.S. citizens hold a favorable view of Mexico, they tend see Mexico as a vacation spot beset by a series of problems, from drugs, crime, and violence to immigration, poverty and corruption. It is important to change the cultural narrative to make sure both Mexicans and Americans understand our shared history and the importance of the U.S.-Mexico relationship in their everyday lives.

Recommendations

  • Mexico should take the initiative in establishing a diplomatic and personal relationship with the incoming administration at multiple levels in each government.
  • Mexico should deepen its existing public diplomacy programs to build a better narrative of Mexico in the United States. Changing popular discourse about Mexico will make it more difficult for anti-immigrant and anti-Mexico political forces to gain traction in U.S. politics.
  • The Biden administration should identify areas of common interest with López Obrador’s government while avoiding sensitive political issues in Mexican domestic politics. Both sides must work to address persistent irritants in the binational relationship.
  • Mexico and the United States should work together to build an integrated regional program for Central America, rather than the fragmented strategies that have resulted from Central American countries preferring direct relationships with Washington.
  • Mexico should identify a strategy for navigating the growing rivalry between the United States and China and see these tensions as an opportunity to become more of a partner with the U.S. 

Media

UC San Diego’s U.S.-Mexico Forum 2025 Taps into Potential of Cross-Border Collaboration
Feb. 26, 2021 | UC San Diego News Center | Jade Griffin
The Forum provides the Biden and López Obrador administrations with policy recommendations on trade and economy, energy and sustainability, strategic diplomacy, migration, and security and public health