Mexico and the U.S. discuss their futures

Fox visit: Two presidents' good intentions for closer relations run into economic realities.

September 05, 2001

THE FIRST state visit of the Bush administration reaffirms the symbolism that President Bush and President Vicente Fox of Mexico have both stressed.

Each wants to raise the level of the relationship as the cornerstone of his own foreign policy, and make an epochal new partnership his chief contribution to his own nation's history.

That said, the three-day visit of Mr. Fox will have difficulty adding substance to the Tex-Mex flavor the two have already established.

Mr. Fox will have as hard a time selling his radical proposals for immigration reform and open borders to the U.S. Congress as he has selling domestic economic reform to Mexico's Congress.

The best thing the United States can do for Mexico is run the economy flat-out, which at the moment it is not.

So interlocking are the two economies that the slowdown in the United States undermines Mexico's manufactures, employment and ability to absorb the population growth in its work force. The slowdown also ends the recent U.S. hunger for more immigrants and brings back the inhospitable attitudes of an earlier era.

The slowdown in Mexico weakens tolerance for the tax increases Mr. Fox proposed in his first state-of-the-union address Saturday. It strengthens resistance to foreign investment and reinforces the belief that natural wealth in the ground is the Mexican patrimony not to be exploited by foreigners.

Mr. Fox has been Mexico's super-salesman since his election ended one-party rule in Mexico, visiting 26 countries so far in search of respect, influence and investment. His problems are at home, where expectations are on hold and Congress is in the hands of the opposition.

Similarly, Mr. Bush's instinct for liberalizing immigration runs into the traditional faith of his own party that good fences make good neighbors, and union-fed protectionism among Democrats.

The United States and Mexico are very large neighbors with an enormous border - in good times and bad. So Mr. Bush and Mr. Fox are right to pursue their agenda. But while all proposals must be considered, the best thing the United States can do for Mexico is return to dynamic growth. Easily said, not so easily done.

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