Jane Harman: Good afternoon, I’m Jane Harman, the President and CEO of the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., former member of Congress, where I represented parts of Los Angeles, which I called, and still do, “North Mexico.” A huge Mexican influence there, all for the good. And a lot of time growing up to fall in love with Mexico, which I still am.
This event is organized by the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute and the Mexico Council on Foreign Relations.
I’m excited to welcome U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau, who will share his insights on U.S.-Mexico cooperation during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
We have a huge number of people listening in and trying to get in the air waves or I guess zoom in and we hope you are able to get in because this yet another event by our Mexico Institute that is attracting a huge audience.
Ambassador Landau is the son of the late George W. Landau, who served as U.S. Ambassador to three countries: Paraguay, Chile, and Venezuela.
I say that not to overshadow our special guest but to point out Latin America has played a major role in this Ambassador Landau’s childhood. That gives him extra qualifications on top of the all the ordinary variety of qualifications.
Duncan Wood, the Director of our Mexico Institute and a moderator of today’s discussion, tells me that Ambassador Landau’s Spanish still has a notable Paraguayan accent, go figure, whatever that may mean, but that his Mexican accent is getting stronger by the day. Duncan, your British accent is still strong, so I’m not sure what your observation means, in fact.
But Ambassador Landau arrived in Mexico at a crucial time. The surge of Central American migration last year brought the need for unprecedented coordination between the U.S. and Mexico on border security.
Thankfully, we have risen to the challenge and made great progress in the way of government cooperation. That’s a very good thing and it’s thanks, in no small part, to the Ambassador’s efforts.
The COVID-19 epidemic and pandemic, of course, has brought new and very different challenges. From ensuring the safety of Americans in Mexico to coordinating the partial closing of the U.S.-Mexico border, it’s safe to say that the Ambassador has had his hands full in recent weeks, so we are extraordinarily grateful that he has agreed to talk to us today.
Ambassador, as I’m sure you know, our Mexico Institute is the go-to source for analysis on the U.S.-Mexico relationship. So I’m comfortable leaving you in very capable hands of Duncan Wood for this interview. I’m not leaving you, I will be here, watching but Duncan will be the one to carry out the interview.
Special thanks to Duncan and his team for their hard work in excellent programing in these unusual times.
Please join me in welcoming the Director of our first in class Mexico Institute, Duncan Wood.
Duncan Wood: Thank you Jane for your kind words and also your leadership during difficult times. It’s been extraordinary to watch how the Wilson Centers has come up with such dynamic and relevant programming and seemingly on a not just a daily basis but a couple of times a day. Thank you for playing a role in so many of those events.
I’d like to thank our partner institution COMEXI, the Mexican Council on Foreign Affairs. We are going to be hearing from its President Luis Rubio, who will give some closing comments at the end of this event. Luis Rubio of course is a global fellow with the Mexico Institute and a member of our board.
Thank you Ambassador Landau for being here. It’s been wonderful to see how you have worked as Ambassador during these times. You really took the bull by the horns when you first landed in Mexico and embraced Mexican culture. I know that you are dearly loved by so many people in Mexico because of that and I’ll give you a more formal introduction in a second.
Let me also thank our corporate sponsors. We have board members from many different sectors at the Mexico Institute. We are grateful to you all them for their support but I’d like to specially point out the board members from the pharmaceutical and health sector, who support our work and in particular on public health cooperation between Mexico and the United States: Pharma, Pfizer, Amgen and Gilead. Thanks to all of them for their inputs.
Which actually helped us to put together a publication recently, titled “Beyond Pandemics: U.S.-Mexico Cooperation in Public Health”, that I co-worked with Andrew Rudman. And there are some ideas in there for taking public health cooperation forward after this pandemic is over.
But I’d like to give a more formal introduction to Ambassador Christopher Landau.
Ambassador was born in Madrid, one of my favorite cities, and now he gets to live in my favorite city, Mexico City, because, I mean, I have no doubt it’s the most fun city in the world.
But of course you, as Jane mentioned, you spent a lot of your childhood in Paraguay, and that’s where you learned your fluent Spanish. But you came back to the United States, went to school in Boston, you went to Harvard for both your undergraduate and your graduate work and go to GD Suma Cum Laude from Harvard.
Ambassador Landau was a very very successful lawyer before he came to be Ambassador in Mexico and argued nine cases before the Supreme Court. That’s something extraordinary.
He’s been the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico since August of last year. As many people who are watching this webcast know, there was a gap, a significant gap, before Ambassador Landau was able to go down to Mexico. And it was really felt, I think, that we needed an Ambassador in place.
So everybody watched with great interest to see who the choice would be from the Trump Administration and we are so glad that you were nominated and accepted to go down to Mexico City.
As I’ve said earlier on you have not only embraced the country and its culture but you really have been embraced by the country and I think that’s a testament to you as a human being and as a skilled diplomat. But it also shows very much the human side of diplomacy that we sometimes forget about.
Ambassador Landau: I’ve already accepted your invitation to do this thing. You don´t need to butter me up now!\
Duncan Wood: thank you so much for being here. I would like to turn the microphone over to you for some opening comments.
Obviously this has been a very complex and complicated timing over the last couple of months. But perhaps you’d like to being on some reflections on what you found when you first go down to Mexico
How you perceived the bilateral relationship before the pandemic and then to talk a little bit about the successes and the challenges of bilateral cooperation during the pandemic.
I will leave the microphone open for you right now and then come back to question you on more specific detail when you are done. So Ambassador Landau we are over to you.
Ambassador Landau: Perfect! Thank you so much to you Duncan and to you Jane for those introductions.
Let me just start out by saying that I’m honored and delighted to be here today at this forum sponsored by, not only the Wilson Center for which I have great respect, but also by COMEXI, an institution here in Mexico that I have really learned to cherish and to call on for very unfailingly wise advice.
So I feel like, this is actually my first public give and take since the pandemic started and I can’t think of a better forum than this.
You know, I’ve made the transition last year from being a lawyer to being a diplomat, and I can’t think of a much more dramatic change.
I specialized in appellate litigation so mostly taking cases at the Court of Appeals, very focused on writing briefs, presenting oral arguments in different courts but it was a very academic corner of the law, where I had a lot of time to think, to write, to read, all of which I have done very little of since I’ve arrived in Mexico as Ambassador.
My days now are mostly talking to people, you know, meetings, and it’s wonderful to work those different muscles but, I want to just emphasize, that I really value institutions like the Wilson Center, the Mexico Institute, within the Wilson Center and COMEXI, folks that actually have the time and the passion to do the deep digging, the writing, the reading, that needs to be done, that policymakers in my position we just don’t have the time to do that
And so I miss those days but I’m very grateful that there are other people who are still doing those kind of things and so, again, I just want to take my hat off to both Wilson Center and to COMEXI.
You know, let me just address Duncan’s point, which is, I always knew that going as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico was not going to be a champagne and cocktail party kind of embassy, this is not Luxemburg. And nothing against Luxemburg. I don’t know if there’s any Luxembourgeois people here but…I have one here in the room with me [laughs]. OK, there’s one in every crowd!
But, you know, this a very complicated and critically important relationship for both countries. One of the reasons I really wanted this job is that I firmly believe that neither of our countries can’t really have success in its own domestic agenda without getting the relationship with the other country right.
And so I came down here very much focused on three key areas, which are immigration, and as Duncan mentioned briefly, or it may have been Jane that said, that you think to last year — it’s funny how the crises of the day changes and the pandemic has kind of minimized everything else — We were facing a very serious crisis at our southern border last year and so that was kind of the top of the agenda.
Also, there’s the constant security issue with Mexico, which, from the U.S. perspective is basically about narcotics interdiction. But from the Mexican perspective it entails a far broader patchwork of corruption, insecurity within Mexico in general, crime in Mexico, violence, so there’s lots of aspects to that problem and it’s proven to be very difficult over the decades.
And then economic issues; the USMCA was still up in the air last year. Frankly, it was still somewhat up in the air until the moment when all the sudden it came into place back in December. But there were some very tense moments there going down to the wire.
And, you know, the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, the economic relationship, I’m sure that everyone on this call appreciates, is so important to both countries that we were each others’ largest trading partner in goods last year.
So, that part of the relationship is really critical to get right and, so my days in the nine months that I’ve been here up to know, let’s say in the seven or eight months that I was here before the pandemic, I would be kind of vary on any given day I might be focused on one, or the other, or multiple of those issues at once but those were kind of bread and butter issues.
When the pandemic kind of came along, in the beginning or middle of March, obviously that became the issue, how we respond to that. And all the other issues really had to be looked at through the pandemic lens. And I think that we can discuss in a moment how the pandemic has really affected all of those other issues
Suddenly, what seemed like a very complicated docket full of high priority issues: it’s amazing how a crisis like the pandemic — how an existential crisis — kind of focuses the mind and clears away a lot of the cobwebs.
Those other issues haven’t really gone away but now we have to kind of come out with a new normal, at least during the pandemic and looking towards a post-pandemic future.
I’d say that we are working, in general, in a very collaboratively with the Mexicans. We both have an interest in reducing the infections in both our countries, given just the huge volume of people that cross over our share border. You can’t really have a healthy Mexico without a healthy United States and vice versa.
We’ve been working with Mexico to try to support their health systems. Both, at the governmental level, where we’ve given them some support. Obviously Mexico is a country that has its own money to buy medical supplies on the international market and they’ve been doing that. But we’ve been providing them with support and assistance where we can and U.S. companies have really also stepped up to the plate. And the private sector, they just worked with some Mexican companies in funding a big COVID-19 temporary hospital here in Mexico City. I was very proud to see that and I’ve been tweeting about it.
And we’ve seen, you know, General Motors, for example, had turned over its factory in Toluca to making facemasks and I love highlighting that kind of stuff because it shows the breath of cooperation in a time of crisis.
You know, I’ve said there’ve been some areas that have gone fairly smoothly in the crisis. I think we can get more of this in a moment with Duncan but they way we kind of handled the border itself in the early days of the crisis back in March, I can consider to be a real success story.
It’s one of those kind of things that, you know, you don’t get headlines out of doing something successfully. Basically people are just…you can only kind of get in trouble if it blows up out in your face, but if everything gets smoothly then it doesn’t become a story at all. And I think that’s a little bit of what happened at the border, It’s kind of the story that wasn’t but I’m very proud of that.
I think, some of my most tricky moments as Ambassador were those days in March, in mid-March, when we moved to this new paradigm of how we are going to deal the stuff in the pandemic and how we addressed, keeping the border open to commerce in this crisis and not making the economic situation in both countries worse.
I’d say that the biggest frustration for me, and the thing that this pandemic has laid bare, that we have to do more on the economic front to talk about cooperation on things like essential industries in times of crisis. That has been a sore area from the beginning.
I’m a very frank person and I talk frankly about things and, you know, again I’m not blaming any particular person or government. I just think that none of the countries really proceeded in a coordinated fashion.
That’s understandable when you have a crisis like this and particularly when you have federal republics with significant authority and responsibility at the state and local levels, these kind of things don’t happen seamlessly. But I think you can certainly have procedures in place that will allow for more institutionalized on-going discussions of that issue.
I think, to me, one of the really important things here is to talk about lessons learned and things we can go forward with. I’m sure the Wilson Center and the Mexico Institute will be focusing on these issues as we move forward, and I certainly look forward to seeing to what they have to say about this.\
Because I’m very open to lessons learned and, certainly, hearing about different people’s experiences, things that those of you on the call, they presumably, all of you are in this call because you have interest in the U.S.-Mexico relationship in the time of pandemic.
And I’m very interested on hear all your perspectives on things that we can do better now, frankly, and moving forward. So, you know, I think, again, there are some things I think that we’ve done well, like in the context of our… We’ve significantly reduced our in-staff presence at the Embassy, as you might expect, and in the consulates when the health crisis really started ted to heat-up in mid-March.
We went to about 10 percent working at the office at that time to really keep open essential services and emergency services. I think, by large, my perception — and again, I’m open to hearing from other folks who are the users of our services — is that we’ve have managed to keep out heads above water and kind of keep the trains running, if not exactly on time, at least, you know, on the track, particularly in an area, which I can get into a little bit later, like agricultural workers that they need those H-2A visas. That is such a critical component really for both countries economies and we managed to keep that going.
So, again, I think there’s a lot of success stories here, as well, frankly, as a lot of frustration about the lack of coordination in other things as essential industries.
So, I think it’s a kind of a mixed bag overall but I want to focus, to accentuate the positive and acknowledge the negative. As I’ve said, I’m open to hearing different perspectives.
I’m very much a believer, just to kind of talk a little bit about, you know, the economic situation, I think it is, there are certainly very not only legitimate but compelling health interest at stake on both sides of the border and the key is to come up with a way to protect worker health without completely stopping economic activity.
I think it’s possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. I think that we’ve seen that in places like China and Europe. Mexico and the United States, particularly Mexico, has the advantage of being at the end of the world wide curve of this, so there’s a lot of lessons learned from other parts of the world and I’m always very eager to hear what companies who operate in other parts of the world have to say.
So, again, I think I’ll wrap it up there and maybe we can go to some more targeted questions but just let me reiterate again that I feel very honored to have this platform today to speak with you and, you know, I look forward to answering your questions. So, thank you very much.
I think it is important to keep in mind that this did not hit each of our countries at exactly the same moment, so it takes a while for people to realize ‘we might need to take some very dramatic steps here.’ I am glad you raise Canada – and I don’t know if this has been focused on — because Canada was really the driver of this. I think the United States had more cases than other countries in North America at this time, in early March, I think, Canada was interested in restricting the flow across its border with the United States, our Northern border, and then, it’s kind of funny how things have a ripple effect. The United States could not very well announce restrictions on its Northern border, the obvious question was: What are you doing in your southern border?
So, it had to be done in a coordinated way. The United States and Canada had been in discussions because the virus was more advance there, so they had developed this essential visits paradigm in the U.S.-Canadian discussions. And then, I think after that I’d been gone for several days, and it looked like an announcement was imminent, that’s when somebody says, “we have got to also kind of role in the southern border into this.” And at that point here in Mexico we were just starting to get the first cases, they were quite specific and targeted, people who had been in Vail or Europe or in very specific places, but there was not really a sense that it was so dramatic to be taking that kind of step.
I think the Mexicans were very concerned that the United States, because of what it was doing with Canada, might “close the border.” I think it was very important to everybody involved—they made this very clear to me I thought it was a very fair point—that in a sense, it does not help any of us to close the border, the question is always (about) keeping the border open for essential activities; it is a little bit of a half glass full, glass half empty kind of issue, but it was very important to message this as “keeping the border open to commerce.” There was really never any discussion from anybody’s part to close commerce. I think that shows how far advance we are in economic integration.
So, it was a question of taking the model that the U.S. and Canada had worked out and bring it to Mexico. As you said, this is such a complex border that the thought is if you really want to figure out how you going to limit the border? You could probably commission a working group talking about that for six months. We basically had to do this in 24 hours in that middle week of March. Everybody understood that it was much better to do any of these things on a multilateral basis, on bilateral basis between the U.S. and Canada, and on bilateral basis between the U.S. and Mexico, for a whole host of reasons.
We went with the Mexican Government, we had some very good conversations, I think they understood where we were coming from on that, and we understood where they were coming from. I was worried frankly, that the narrative would be “chaos on the border” because it does not take much to create chaos on the border; you get a dead deer by the side of the sideway and it can back up the trucks for 12 hours going in. I was quite concerned that this ‘essential/not essential’ line would be difficult to apply in practice. As a lawyer maybe I am trained to think of all the difficult hypotheticals and all the gray area, but I think people in all three countries took a very common sense-approach to this.
It was kind of funny, the day after this went into effect, there was a story in one of the Mexican papers like “chaos at the border” and it showed a big backup of cars…I don’t know, that was like a filed photo that they had of the border or something like that, because another paper had “empty gatehouses,” “empty border crossing checks.” So I tweeted kind of saying, “Ok guys, I know you love your narrative of chaos on the border but cut that narrative, (because) it has actually been remarkable successful.” And it has proven to be that way.
I have to say, as a policy maker you do the best you can and then you just hope that it works out, and this is one of those cases where I think it really did. What is really remarkable is that the commerce and trucks and the real commercial activity, the people who work on either side of the border, that all continued fine. I think everybody just kind of got it. It could have really gone ugly, but I think everybody realized, particularly in time of pandemic, that it wasn’t a joke, it wasn’t politically motivated by one country or the other, everybody was rowing in the same direction and it worked.
Duncan Wood: Thank you, it’s a stunning example of how positive the relationship has been. In particular the relationship that the State Department, the Embassy and yourself have built up with Canciller Ebrard, who I think has done such a stunning job of communicating with the U.S. Government and understanding the needs on both sides of the border.
Ambassador Landau: He’s been a great partner. And he knows— what’s most important in this business, I’ve come to see — is to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and really understand what are the constraints under which the other person is operating, so you don’t spend a lot of time on stuff that the other side couldn’t possibly accept. I think he knows pretty well the constraints under which I’m operating, I understand the constraints under which he’s operating, and so, we kind of get right to the point, and, again, there’s a lot of people involved in this.
I think the Border Patrol did a very good job. The CBP at the actual ports of entry, in terms of implementing this policy without… Obviously, this all kind of came up almost overnight. This all came up, from beginning to end, in less than 48 hours. So, when you think about it, particularly in that context, a lot could have gone wrong. But I think that relationship is very important, between Marcelo Ebrard, the Foreign Minister, is a key player and excellent partner. And I think both presidents want to have a good relationship with the other country, not withstanding what a lot of people think and thought when they came in. I think both of them value this relationship and it paid off dividends that night, when those decisions were made.
Duncan Wood: Let me take you to a slightly more difficult issue, the one that you’ve already brought up, and that is, of course, the question of supply chains, reactivating parts of the Mexican economy so that components can flow back across the border to the United States. You’ve already put out that this is a question not just of economy but of public health. We know that a reopening factory does put some people at risk. I wonder if you can talk about the progress that you’re making, or the problems that you’re facing on that issue because, despite the positive relationship, of course this is a very difficult issue to handle, and it’s received a lot of attention now in the press here in the United States. So I wonder if you could walk us through that.
Ambassador Landau: To put this in context, and you all know this better than I do, but, we are now the beneficiaries of basically thirty years of work by people on this call as well as other people to really push ahead North American economic integration, and use the relative advantages of each of our countries to improve the wealth of the region as a whole.
I, frankly, am concerned about North American supply chains. It’s a very intricate system where, so many companies in the States, not only the big ones like GM or Ford, but little companies that make lawn blowers or alarm systems, have certain components made in Mexico. The Mexican Government— President Lopez Obrador was kind of criticized in March and, again, everyone has to keep in mind that the pandemic hit here several weeks later than it hit the United States and Europe, so he was being criticized for going out and not doing enough, going out to rallies, high-fiving people, kissing babies — but at the end of March he put the Health Ministry here in control of defining the essential industries, basically gave them the authority to stop all non-essential industries in the country, and put that implementation in the hands primarily of the Health Ministry. As might be expected, this again was done at a pretty compressed timetable, they came up with a pretty narrow list of what industries are essential: basically health, security just in terms of private security and police and all that, and then food chains so, you know, very minimal.
We in the United States came up with some CISA guidelines that were guidelines at the Federal level, they had been implemented to one extent or another in the states, and I think Canada, my understanding is, had something similar to those CISA guidelines. Those are substantially more exapansive on essential industries than the Mexican ones. I have to say, that from the beginning I was concerned that there was no mechanism in Mexico, or in the United States really— but in Mexico, I guess, at this point— to coordinate with the United States on how you deal with these international supply chains and these differences in the definitions of essential industries.
So far we have been working kind of on an ad-hoc basis with American companies if we get word that an American company says: “Look, we’re allowed to be open in the United States, but we can’t open in Mexico, and our plants in the United States are going to have to shut down if we don’t get our supplies from Mexico…” we’ve been able to work with the Mexican Government both at the Federal and State level to try to get exemptions and to work it out, but there has never been in Mexico in this crisis a formal procedure for companies to petition to the Mexican Government “we need to be able to open the supply chain.” I think it’s going to be really important as we come out of this, and look to the future to have some kind of a mechanism in place so we can do those things. It’s very hard to to that once you’re in the middle of a crisis. We are still in the middle of that.
I just got off a phone call a few minutes ago about the opening of the automotive sector which now looks like in the States it’ll happen May 18. We’re still working closely with the Mexicans because, again, it helps both our countries. Nobody wants to inflict unnecessary harm on their own country’s economy, or on these North American supply chains, but it also has to be done in a way that takes into account very legitimate health concerns. So this has been a very recurring issue. I suspect lots of people in this call have heard about this, or may even be involved in this. And it’s been my bread and butter over the past six weeks, trying to deal with this kind of things. Again, kind of in a piecemeal basis which is not ideal. So I certainly hope that we come up with a mechanism that would at least allow there to be an established framework for coordination and discussion in the future on this kind of things.
Duncan Wood: Thank you, and now changing perspectives just to be a little more forward looking and you’ve suggested earlier on that when we get beyond this there will be an opportunity to reflect and to review how things went. You suggested that we need to some common definitions of what is an essential industry. And certainly I think that as we look at the institutionalized mechanisms that exist.
The North American Plan for Animal and Pandemic Influenza for example, the NAPAPI. In there, there are a lot of different ideas about exchanging information, about stockpiling medicine and essential supplies, for example. But I think that document was written before we had a real understanding of how the integrated economy could be disrupted. So it would be good to go back to that and to include those conversations and certainly that’s part of the work that we’ll be doing here at the Mexico Institute. But I was wondering, and I I know you’re not a public health expert. It seems that this is the perfect excuse…
Ambassador Landau: Aren’t we all public health experts now? Can’t we can all talk about flattening the curve? —you’d think I was a virologist by now—Usually the passion with which I can talk about that is inversely proportional to my actual knowledge of a subject—so be careful with that [laughs].
Duncan Wood: All I was going to say is that there is a real opportunity to make public health a part of the bilateral relationship in a positive way—whether it’s exchanging information, which is very, very important. But, we’ve seen some reports in the press today about the need for more reliable data in Mexico.
Ambassador Landau: I think that this is true across our own country. I think people are, you know, counting what is a Covid death in one way in one place and not a Covid death in another way. This has brought up a lot of inconsistencies. It’s a little bit like after 9/11 where we realized that first responders here were not talk to the first responders there. We need a common language to deal with these kinds of things. We should kind of agree… You know, even within our country – within the United States – we have our own system, we have a federal system, so you could have 50 different standards for how to do these things. But I agree with you.
NAPAPI is a good existing framework. It’s a pretty limited framework. And, just for those that aren’t familiar—it doesn’t necessarily roll off the tongue. NAPAPI is the North American Plan for Animal and Pandemic Influenza. It was set up in the early 2000s when there was a couple of pandemics. Obviously with being neighbors with a 2000 mile border you can’t really have — any health outbreak in either country, is going to affect the other. And really across North America. I think it is a very positive mechanism. I think though that it’s probably more helpful between times of crisis. Once you’re in the crisis everyone is too busy dealing with the immediate fire in their own house to be spending a lot time talking about this. It’s one of these truisms. I think you have to have these mechanisms set up in advance because it’s very hard—you can’t really set them up on the fly.
You’re more familiar with some of the NAPAPI issues than I am, Duncan. But I think, I’m hoping that we can try to coordinate and align at least our definition with Mexico more, and how we work to share information, and that. I think we, the CDC I think has earmarked 3 million dollars for technical assistance for Mexico and that is for data collection, serological testing — lots of things like that. I think there is still a long way to go, even on the public health front where we already had something. But again, I think that goes well beyond public health to include things like: How do we preserve our supply chains in times of crisis? If you don’t have that mechanism set up beforehand you’re not going to set it up in the middle of the crisis. We’re seeing that now.
Duncan Wood: Absolutely. I think one of the things that we have learned throughout this pandemic is that communication matters a great deal between nations. It would be great if we had stronger ties between the Health Ministries in both country. And, the ability to talk about issues like how to get drugs to market. One of the issues we’re going to face is when we eventually have a vaccine—How do we get the necessary permit to get that? Actually it’s quite a lot of things in my opinion. I wanted to sort of open it up to some of the questions we’re receiving from the audience. The first question that we have is from is actually Luis Tellez who writes. Mr. Ambassador, as co-chair of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center I want to thank you for your support, attending our meetings and hosting our board members, among others. He says, related to the pandemic, I want to raise an issue. The Mexico grid operator established a directive which leaves, that prevent newer cleaner energy plants from operating. Several of the plants have been supported and financed by U.S. companies. I supposed this is was an issue that would create a response from the U.S. government. What is your view?
Ambassador Landau: We have had some concerns as a government about what is happening in the Mexican energy sector for some time now. I don’t think that is a—should come as a surprise to anyone. The gas pipelines issue recently. And you know, obviously, it is up to Mexico as a sovereign country to set the rules of the road when it comes to any domestic policy including its energy policy. Our message has always been, that once you set the rules of the road—however you set them, whatever the rules are, when private companies then come in and invest under those rules, that you have to respect the existing rules. You can’t keep changing them. And, I think that has been a source concern for us. And we are certainly in communication with the Mexican government about our concerns in the energy sector.
I think, look, one of the things about Covid is that it is reeking such incredible economic devastation in both countries. And I am very hopeful, as our president has said, that we can rebound quickly. And am certainly hopeful that Mexico can rebound quickly. I always say, my job as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico should be pretty easy. There are so many win-win opportunities. I mean, it is in our national interest to have a prosperous Mexico for a whole host of reasons that everyone knows. So, I actually wish Mexico really well. This is not a zero sum game where Mexico doing well somehow hurts us. Mexico doing well benefits us. So, we’re in this together.
Certainly I think both our countries are going to have to figure out the the post Covid world. And who knows, the post-Covid world isn’t going to just pop up over not. There is not going to be one day where all of a sudden the virus is gone. This is probably going to be several months where were are establishing new ways of working. But I think the economic consequences are probably more dramatic than any of us could consider possible, in such a short amount of time.
So, I am hoping that Mexico and the private sector from the United States will be able to recognize all the win-win possibilities that there are out there. Because I don’t think anybody has time—the luxury– in this economic crisis for, you know, for having disputes—I think we gotta kinda quickly identify ways in which we can actually get money flowing again in both of our economies. And I think—I have a hard time seeing a scenario for Mexican economic recovery that doesn’t include some kind of attractiveness to foreign investment. Investment will go where it is welcome. If Mexico…I am very hopefully that they will welcome foreign investment and recognize that that benefits them and it is not any kind of exploitation of them, but its a mutual benefit. And, I think that it’s particularly important energy sector, that is in a sense the basis of all economic activity. You can’t have any kind of factory anywhere if you don’t have reliable and inexpensive energy. And again, I am hopeful that we come out of this and we can kind of, maybe, just kind of get real very quickly in terms of projects that will help people advance.
Duncan Wood: Thank you Ambassador, I’d like to turn it over to Jane Harman, who’s back with us — well, you stayed here the whole time — but you’re back with us to ask a question right now: Jane?
Jane Harman: Thank you, I think this session is very interesting and I learned that my good friend Luis Rubio is going to make some comments a bit later. Hello Luis, I can see you on my screen, and its nice to see you and it’s wonderful always to partner with you. And, Ambassador Landau, I learned that we went to the same law school. I call myself a recovering lawyer and a recovering politician – so that’s been true, so far. And I am enjoying life reading books and thinking deep thoughts at the Wilson Center and helping to make some difference. Here’s my question: yesterday, I think it was yesterday, the Washington Post – big front page story about “Latinos, most impacted (this is a U.S. story) by Covid-19″…I don’t know. I’m assuming that’s accurate. Papers before that they talked about African Americans, but yesterday the Post said Latinos. You have used this forum – and I think wisely — to talk to an audience here about how you feel. You’re obviously very bullish about US-Mexico relations and — not all latinos of Mexican origin — I got that. But I just wanted to give you a minute to address this. Because, possibly, a lot of these folks – assuming this is accurate – are involved in the U.S. Mexico supply chain.
Ambassador Landau: Well look, as I think you pointed out, Latinos in the United States come in many…there are many different strains in that community from different countries. The Mexicans, there are some that have been in our country for – the ones of Mexican ancestry I should say — there are some that have been in our country for centuries, longer than my family certainly. There are others who are new arrivals. And I think a crisis like this focuses the mind. And I think one of the things that’s interesting is that, one of the first priorities, is to make sure that we have the agricultural workers in the United States who are really – I’ve said from the beginning – critical to our national security. And I have directed – as our Embassy kind of went to a skeletal staff in mid March – that our consular operations prioritized the processing of the H2A agricultural workers who are — you know that coming from California — they’re critical to our own food supply.
I very much hope that we can come up with programs that recognize that safe, legal and orderly migration is in the interest of both countries. I have been a big fan all along of trying to come up with successors to the old brasero programs from the 1950s, which I think were very successful in meeting demands for labor in our country and employing Mexicans.
I would very much like to come up with ways to create more possibilities for legal and orderly work in the United States. But I think a crisis like this, you have to recognize the importance of Latinos in our economy and our society and culture. One of the things that I learned when I went through my confirmation hearings last year was that about 35 million Americans — maybe one out of 10 Americans — is of Mexican ancestry and so, you know, the ties between our countries — we talk about economic ties — but there’s also a very strong blood, family, cultural ties, and you know, I think it is very important to get this relationship with Mexico right. And certainly the latinos in the United States, particularly those of Mexican ancestry, I think, are a very important part of our country, what makes our country strong, and, you know, I hope that we can come out of this, and again; I think that there will be a pre-COVID world and a post-COVID world. And I certainly hope that in the post COVID world there will be a real appreciation for the importance of our ties with Mexico and those of Mexican ancestry in our own country.
Duncan Wood: Thank you Ambassador. I’ve got two questions, but I also want to make sure there enough time for Luis Rubio to make some remarks here. But I’ve got two fire-side questions here for you Ambassador. One is from Mary Beth Sheridan of the Washington Post: “How has the Pandemic slowed the operation of anti-narcotics efforts?” And, secondly, it’s about the relations with the private sector. There’s no doubt that relations with the private sector a few weeks ago have changed. In your conversations with the Mexican Government and stakeholders: do you get a sense that they understand that the private sector is concerned?
Ambassador Landau: Yeah, first dealing with the anti-narcotics, just as viruses don’t respect borders, the narcos don’t necessarily respect borders or viruses. And so, there has been continued cooperation on narcotics. There have been several significant seizures in the past few weeks. Obviously, everybody’s being forced to balance a lot on their plates right now. It’s been certainly more logistically complicated to have units going out because you don’t want to have as many people together. But let me just make very clear that those efforts have not stopped. And just as the efforts of our country to control the illegal flow of guns and money, which is a big priority of mine — into Mexico — have not stopped and we’ve had some successful seizures of arms that were southbound. President Trump and President Lopez Obrador talked a few weeks ago and Lopez Obrador was very proudly talking about how the Mexican authorities found a tunnel in Tijuana area that was full of drugs and also arms coming the other direction. It’s certainly been more complicated,just as anything has gotten more complicated, but it certainly has not stopped.
On the private sector question: There are different private sectors. And the Mexican private sector is very well represented. They have their private sector organizations that they have had their differences with the current administration. I don’t think that’s any big secret. We want a prosperous neighbor.
My job is to represent the interest of the private sector in the united states. Unlike other countries in the world we’re a primarily private sector driven economy and so part of my job is to represent the interests of American companies. I find that pretty easy because I find that for any one of these people that want to invest there’s a great win-win story. And they’re obviously investing under the terms set by the Mexican government.
The Mexican government is free to put whatever conditions it wants on private investment and then a good investor is certainly free to decide on whether its worth his or her while to make that investment or not. But the one thing, as I said before, that concerns, me is when people try to change the terms of a deal that was already agreed upon. I think that just destabilizes…investors and businesses need certainty.
So, if the Mexican Government wants growth and investment – wants money to come into the country – it has to provide certainty to to investors and that has been something that I’m very interested in. But I don’t really thing that Mexico or any other country can expect strong growth if it doesn’t have a good relationship with the private sector companies and, again, respect the agreements they put into place. I think it’s always a work in progress, but that message just seems very clear to me and, certainly, we’ve been delivering it.
Duncan Wood: Thank you. Certainly at this time when we see that there’s a bit of a rebalancing going on in terms of supply chains from China and there’s a huge opportunity for Mexico right now: if it’s willing to take that opportunity.
Ambassador Landau: Don’t get me started on this. This is one of my big themes that this is a moment that should be Mexico’s moment to really step up to the plate and show why, particularly now, with the new USMCA in place. If President Lopez Obrador and President Trump – both of whom were critical of the original free trade agreement, came around to embracing this agreement, I think that shows that there’s really a broad consensus in these countries that this kind of North American economic resolution helps everybody. So we’re in this for the long term together. That’s why, frankly, I’m so concerned about Mexico, during this crisis, not handling the supply chain issue well, because this is a moment when it could be really benefiting from the general realignment between the United States and China and that certainly adds, for me, at least, a sense of urgency to try and grease the skids here.
Duncan Wood: Thank you Ambassador. I will turn the microphone over to Luis Rubio, President of COMEXI, Mexican Council on Foreign Relations, to give some closing remarks. Let me just say, once again, we’re really, really, grateful to you for being here. We’re really grateful to COMEXI for the cooperation. Thank you Congresswoman Harman for being with us. Luis Rubio:
Luis Rubio: Thanks Duncan and thank you Jane for hosting this. Thank you Duncan for moderating and thank you Ambassador for being here. You’ve made a very strong point about why we need to get things right and I think that’s the critical points.
Let me just make three quick points to emphasize what you just mentioned. First, we’re in the throws of elections in both countries. A fact that will determine much of what each country does. On the U.S. side, the election will provide candidates with innumerable opportunities to exploit Mexico’s idiosyncrasies and weaknesses. I wonder whether the USMCA will make a change this time around.
And regardless of who wins in November, the two nations have a need to maintain the relationship, especially to keep the border functional. As the Ambassador said, there can not be a healthy US without a Healthy Mexico. It’s a single vote and we have to work on that. Single boat and the Ambassador already mentioned as well is that, on the Mexican side is how much the supply chains have suffered after the virus stand out. Also how much Mexico succeeds and whether it tries, in a way, to launch a process to attract manufacturing that have been moving away or want to move away from China. All of this within the context of a likely second outbreak the most highly, densely populated parts of the larger urban areas – particularly of Mexico City — but of all the large cities.
And finally, I’m concerned that, just as the Americans have managed to turn the pandemic into a fighting match between left and right rather than a point of conversion, there is an enormous incentive on the Mexican side to use the US as Mex, rather than how it’s tended to be used in the past, as a way to divide mexicans one against the other. So beyond the topics related to the election, once the pandemic is over we’ll go back to the issues that have been looming for some time – that we know about and that the Ambassador has been managing for the time he has been in Mexico. From 5G to Venezuela, Central America, migration and security. They will inevitably return when the pandemic is over and I don’t see anything that will stave that off. Thank you for the opportunity and thank you for being here.
Duncan Wood: Thank you Luis. Let me just say that we will continue working with COMEXI very, very closely and, Mr. Ambassador, we’d love to continue working with your team as well. If we can be of any assistance on helping with public health issues, pandemic issues, whatever it is, that’s what we’re here for. Thank you for taking the time to be with us and thanks to everybody for tuning in today. All the best.