The agreement between the US Mexico and Canada (USMCA) entered into Force last 1st of July 2020 replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Although in many aspects the new treaty resembles the old one a lot, unlike the previous Trade Agreement, the USMCA focuses mainly on car exports, aluminum, and steel tariffs. It also increases environmental and work regulations while incentivizing domestic production of cars and lorries. This agreement also imposes a quota for Canadian and Mexican Automotive production. One could say that majority of the amendments that were made to the old NAFTA and that are crystallised in the USMCA benefit mainly the US than Canada and Mexico.
During all the negotiations that preceded the approval, ratification and enforcement of the new agreement, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) showed no interest in visiting any of his counterparts either in Canada or the United States.During his first 2 years as incumbent president, AMLO has not attended any international events so far, and he has focused on touring cities and regions of Mexico. In 2019, during his first year in office, the President declined to participate in at least three relevant international forums: the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF), which was held from January 22 to 25 ; the Group of 20 Summit (G-20), held on June 28 and 29 in Osaka, Japan; and the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN), which occurred on September 24.As outlandish and questionable that strategy was, it was consistent with the foreign policy approach he embraced ever since he took office: The best foreign policy is the domestic one.
For decades it was a common practice that the newly elected presidents of Mexico and the United States sought to meet each other personally, review the state of the relationship between the two countries, perhaps set an agenda of priorities, and send a signal of cordiality between the newly elected administrations. Very frequently both presidents preferred to meet at the border to avoid having to decide if they would do it in Washington or in the then Federal District, now Mexico City. Such visits have been held for 107 years. They began in October 1909, the first time that Porfirio Díaz and William Howard Taft crossed the border to meet in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, at the inauguration of the international bridge that connects the two cities. During the presidential terms of Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, the first meetings were held in Mexico, just last week and after Trump let out that the Mexican president that had been summoned to meet him, AMLO does not only break with that custom, since now the first meeting will take place in the United States, but is also breaking his presidential campaign promise of focusing on domestic issues rather than international ones.
Donald Trump knows very well that the US is AMLO’s Achilles’ heel in his attempt to sell Mexico as an independent and sovereign country. That is why when Donald Trump threatened to bury the NAFTA, AMLO aligned himself with Trump’s wishes and became the southern wall to stop migration from Central America Trump had so long wished for. AMLO’s foreign policy and concessions to the US have reduced the Mexican diplomacy to the level of servility. The respect, dignity good faith and cooperation that should characterize all diplomatic relations among countries has been lost between Mexico and the US; not only because of Trump’s incendiary, populist, racist, anti-Mexican speech, but also by AMLO’s submission to Trump’s whims.
Last April during an OPEC+ Summit, Mexico refused to reduce its oil output endangering a global agreement to decrease oil production to tackle the oil price crisis. Donald Trump saw a golden opportunity here and did not miss it: he came to the rescue and he offered to cut American production further to make up for Mexico’s share, he went on to say that Mexico would reimburse the US back at a later date. It was obvious that Trump would not ask Mexico to pay back in one go, and this forced visit to the US might be the first of an unknown series of installments of a debt that Mexico is not even fully aware of.
One can already visualize the scene: both presidents shake hands and pose smiling for the media on the porch of the Oval Office in the White House. They declare having had an extraordinary interview where they share points of view on a variety of topics. Of course, they celebrate the entry into force of the renewed and improved Trade agreement which they describe as the trigger for investment, greater commercial exchanges and of course greater prosperity for the 3 countries that will translate into less poverty, less unemployment and a more equal distribution of resources.
They will not talk about the future of the 11 million Mexicans living in the US, and there will be no talks whatsoever about the about the close to six million Mexicans who are undocumented and that are the target of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric, who are constantly persecuted, discriminated against, abused, separated from relative, caged, and deported by the American government. AMLO will not question Trump about such policy and will not try to negotiate some sort of solution to end the violation of their human rights. AMLO will not demand the massive raids and repatriations of Mexicans who have been living in the US for years to be suspended during this health emergency. There will also be no joint statement from both administrations on how to deal with the increasing violence unleashed by drug trafficking in Mexico, and the millions of weapons that are smuggled yearly from the US and that conveniently end up in the hands of the Mexican drug cartels.
As opposing as they may seem, there are several striking similarities between Donald Trump and AMLO. This will explain the docility that will characterize the Mexican envoy this week. AMLO has been carefully crafting since late 2004, when he first started campaigning for the presidency, the image of a nationalist, left-wing advocate for social justice who is ready to stand up for anyone threatening Mexico’s sovereignty. Trump is a simply a racist and a demagogue. Nonetheless, both share a desire to make of the Executive the most powerful branch of the state; they both dismiss institutions and the rule of law; they both have consistently attacked free press and free speech; they both publicly humiliate those that disagree with their policies; they both have shown contempt for science, experts’ advice, research and academics; they have both pursued utterly shambolic policies that have made the pandemic effects worse in both countries; and they both show a high degree of disaffection, lack of empathy, narcissism and have created a sick cult of personality around their persona.
Just like in 2016, when Donald Trump visited Mexico, the visit of the 8th and 9th of July of AMLO will be used by Trump to harvest huge electoral and political gains. Trump is losing popularity rapidly, and he is in desperate need of a foreign policy boost before the November elections. All previous attempts to make him look good internationally have been a failure: he has not been able to kick-start the Middle East Peace Process; the visit to North Korea’s leader Kim Jung Un ended up as a media mess that benefited North Korea more than the US; and his attempt to bring down the government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela has not yet materialised. Donald Trump will be looking to make of the USMCA his big highlight of the year. This will also help him divert attention from his disastrous domestic policies to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and will allow him to again use Mexico as the centre of his next electoral rallies just like he did in 2016.AMLO’s decision to visit Donald Trump during electoral months in the US will also be perceived as Mexico publicly backing Trump’s reelection campaign over Biden’s. This will he detrimental to the bilateral relation should the Democrats win the presidency back in November.
AMLO, however, could turn this visit into a success if he would be willing to change course. One of his many unfulfilled campaign promises was to make the economy grow at an average of 4% annually. Ever since he took office the economy has remained stagnant and latest projects place Mexico to suffer a 10 to 11% contraction because of the global pandemic, one of the worst slumps in Latin America. AMLO could sell this visit as chance for Mexico to regain foreign investment his 60s inspired economic, hyper-centralised economic policies have scared away and have contributed to increased poverty, inequality, and unemployment. He is in serious need of an economic boost to help him regain his rapidly decreasing popularity just 2 years into his 6-year presidential term.
However, AMLO is not planning to potentially benefit from this meeting on any way. He is flying commercial without any delegation of representatives and he wants this visit to remain as low key as possible. He has given no indication about his willingness to change direction and promote Mexico’s foreign investment. One just must look at the symbolism of Trump’s declaration of the Mexican president to understand that this visit does not bode well for Mexico. Donald Trump boasted last Tuesday during a conference that AMLO, was to soon visit the United States after he travelled to Yuma Arizona to monitor the progress of the border wall. On the whole, this will be a zero-sum game in which Mexico will be the loser.
Is Mike Pompeo the worst Secretary of State in history?
Trump may have a race for the worst presidential title, but Pompeo is in a class of his own. James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson remain formidable contenders for Donald Trump in the ranking of worst US presidents. However, there is no competition for Mike Pompeo, Trump’s most passionate subordinate, in the worst Secretary of State ranking.
During his two years and nine months as the nation’s top diplomat, Pompeo did nothing to improve the US administration’s security, values, or even policies. His term ended in humiliation: humiliation from European allies, disgusted by the profanity he and Trump have committed over the past four years. On January 4, Pompeo announced he would travel to Europe and meet European Union leaders.
Two days later, after Trump-fueled riots on Capitol Hill, EU officials said they would not meet him. So Pompeo canceled his last chance to travel abroad. It’s been a long season of humiliation for Pompeo. In August, he pressed the UN Security Council to pass a ban on the sale of conventional weapons to Iran. Only one of the council members, the Dominican Republic, joined the US in supporting the ban; Russia and China against it; others, all US allies, abstained.
The episode depicts, in extreme form, two of Pompeo’s most distinct features: the obsession that foments regime change in Iran and the inability to bring it about or any other goal. Like Trump, Pompeo has been unceasingly opposed to the Iran nuclear deal. It’s no coincidence that Trump pulled out of the deal and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic on May 8, 2018, just 12 days after Pompeo was sworn in as Secretary of State. (His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, has advised Trump to stick to the deal.)
Pompeo claimed, with high confidence, the sanctions would force Tehran to return to negotiating a “better” nuclear deal, or perhaps force a regime collapse. Today: Iran’s economy is in ruins, but the regime survives, its hardline faction is stronger than ever, and its reactors are more capable of producing atomic bombs than ever before. (President-elect Joe Biden wants to restart the nuclear deal, but Iran’s technological advances and political hardening will make this more difficult to achieve.)
This week, he may realize his “maximum pressure” campaign has failed miserably. No wonder then that Pompeo changed course and claimed, in a speech to the National Press Club, that Iran was al-Qaeda’s new “base” and declared, “The time is now for America and all countries free to destroy the al-Qaeda axis of Iran.” The US intelligence official said there was not any evidence for this claim.
Pompeo’s other big target is China, and he has called for regime change in Beijing as well, despite the goals that are clearly absurd. In fact, a large proportion of China’s population supports the party that ruled the government, which lifted more than 850 million people out of poverty in record time. However, there is nothing “Marxist-Leninist” about President Xi Jinping’s philosophy, which seeks expansion through mercantilist techniques, not ideological conformity.
While it is important to contain Chinese military presence in the South China Sea (something the US military has been doing for some time), it is very difficult to compare its scope or ambition to that of the Soviet Union, which once enjoyed a presence in a truly global world. Pompeo misunderstood the nature of China’s challenge. As a result, he came up with half-baked ideas on how to deal with it.
There are also Pompeo’s lies. He has claimed he and Trump have made NATO “stronger” than ever. In reality, those trans-Atlantic relations are strained as Trump continually rejects the alliance in general and the European Union in particular.
Pompeo has also been a corrupt foreign minister. By filming a speech in Jerusalem to be broadcast at the 2020 Republican National Convention, he was violating not only the law, but also the previously announced policy of barring department employees from attending political conventions.
He used security guards to carry out errands for himself, his wife, and his wife’s mother. He also asked Trump to fire the inspector general who investigated the misuse of his government’s resources. He threw a lavish dinner party inside the State Department, inviting donors who might contribute to some future political campaigns.
He tricked the Voice of America, which in recent decades had become a fairly objective global news service, into becoming a propaganda organ for Trump. He demoralized the foreign service even more thoroughly than Tillerson had done.
Pompeo paved his way to power by directing his every word to the pleasure of the boss, starting when he was director of the CIA (where he frequently omitted or distorted intelligence that contradicted Trump’s hunches). He is a dishonest intermediary, reluctant to speak the truth to power, for fear that he will lose power in doing so.
To end it all, in his final days, Pompeo issued a no-discussion order that overturned existing policies: lifting restrictions on official contact with Taiwan, designating Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” and declaring Iranian-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen an “organization. foreign terrorists ”.
This movement will not have a long-term effect. The future Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, can reverse this dictum, although it would be awkward to do so. It was an act of sheer mischief, like a teenager throwing a rotten egg at a new neighbor’s front door.
Is Pompeo the worst Secretary of State ever? In modern times, John Foster Dulles (former Secretary of State) may be a rival for the crown, but, fortunately, President Dwight Eisenhower did not listen to Dulles’ most dire advice.
Dulles was fanatical about pushing for the “backsliding” of Soviet communism, but Eisenhower, however, still adopted the “containment” policy of his predecessor, Harry Truman. Dulles also offered his French counterpart two tactical nuclear weapons to prevent the Viet Cong siege of Dien Bien Phu. However, Eisenhower was not interested in doing so. So, Mike Pompeo won the crown of worst US Secretary of State. Next week, he will fly back to Kansas, where he was a congressman and where he hopes to run for the Senate.
Latin America and China: The economic and debt situation and the U.S. discomfort
Latin American countries have no relatively good room for fiscal and monetary policy adjustment like China, and basically lack the ability for governmental countercyclical adjustment. This is mainly reflected in their room for fiscal and monetary policy.
From a fiscal viewpoint, the taxation ability of Latin American governments is generally weak. Taxation accounts for 16-18% of GDP, which is obviously lower than the 30-35% level of developed countries.
In terms of monetary policy, since the currencies of Latin American countries are directly correlated to the U.S. dollar exchange rate, the dollar fluctuation also entails the reduction of their room for monetary policy adjustment. These countries have continuously borrowed and cut interest rates. Hence there is little room for further steps.
The Federal Reserve has adopted the policy of unlimited quantitative easing which, in practical and easy-to-understand terms, is one of the unconventional ways by which a central bank intervenes in a State’s financial and economic system to increase the amount of debt money in circulation.
Although the U.S. stock market went into a slump several times, it should be noted that Nasdaq reached a new high. Ultimately, money has become more circulating. Interest rates in Latin American countries, however, have become very low and there is little room for further cuts.
At the same time, their foreign debts are also relatively high. For example, Argentina has recently approved a 70billion dollar debt restructuring plan and its debt accounted for over 50% of GDP.
The first solution to the debt crisis is to delay repayment, and the second one is to cancel interest or partly write off the debt. The creditor has no choice but to be forced to agree if one of the counterparts is unable to repay it. This is an endless cycle that, once the debt restructuring plan is approved, will only alleviate and mitigate Argentina’s crisis.
Argentina’s debt crisis occurred nine times in history, and this is the third time in the new century. Inflation in Argentina has caused its currency to depreciate by over 70%. According to statistics from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America, over 12 million people were jobless in Latin America in 2020. Poor people in Latin America will increase from 118 to 130 million and the extremely poor people will rise from over 60 million to over 90 million.
Faced with some new difficulties and challenges, we need to explain and assess China-Latin America relations at the current historic juncture. The development of China-Latin America relations has shifted from a period of high-speed growth to a period of stable growth. Quantitative and extensive development is shifting to a qualitative and specific one.
Initially China-Latin America relations took off suddenly and even exceeded expectations. Instead, a steady, efficient, stable and effective approach is currently preferred. The orderly progression of diplomatic and commercial relations is more advantageous than a context of actual speed.
This is especially the case in the context of intensified strategic competition between China and the United States. The political situation in Latin America, and the further impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, mean that certain changes need to be made to China-Latin America relations.
Firstly, the U.S. influence on China-Latin America relations needs to be assessed. Sino-U.S. relations are the most important, sensitive and complex bilateral relations in Chinese diplomacy.
Recently, there have been many major changes in Sino-U.S. relations, but one of them is often overlooked: from the Latin American countries’ perspective, the relationship between Latin America and the United States is the most important one. China’s interests in Latin America have not surpassed the United States’ in terms of political and economic development.
Here are some data. In the field of economy and trade, the United States is still Latin America’s main trading partner. The same applies to investment. The United States has great advantage over China.
In 2017, trade between the United States and Latin America exceeded 760 billion dollars, almost three times the volume of trade between China and Latin America. In 2019, trade between China and Latin America was about 270-280 billion dollars, while the volume of trade between the United States and Latin America was almost 800 billion dollars.
From an investment perspective, U.S.A.’s and Latin America’s direct engagement in 2017 was 45 billion dollars, almost double that of China. Therefore the United States outperforms China in terms of trade and investment.
However, benefiting from the advantage of China’s economic growth and the structural complementarity between China and Latin America, the acceleration of China’s economic and trade investment in Latin America is higher than that of the United States. Therefore, China has an incremental advantage in Latin America, but the United States enjoys an ‘equity’ primacy.
For example, outgoing President Trump has never visited Latin America, but this does not mean that the United States does not pay attention to it. Quite the reverse. If we look at the reports on Sino-Latin American relations issued by U.S. think tanks, scholars and experts are particularly worried.
The U.S. Congress holds several hearings on Sino-Latin American relations every year and invites not only local experts, but also experts from Mexico, Brazil and other countries. We can see that the United States attaches great importance to the development of China-Latin America relations.
We wonder, however, why has the United States not taken propagandistically political positions in Latin America as it does towards China, the Middle East, South-East Asia and the South China Sea.
This means that the United States still considerably trust Latin American bonhomie, good nature, patience and tolerance. The U.S. media merely claim that China’s influence in Latin America has increased and its soft power has enhanced but, overall, China’s influence in Latin America is far less than that of the United States.
If we ask in Brazil what they think of U.S.-China, U.S.-Brazil and Brazil-China relations, we get the following answers. The United States is a model for Brazil’s development and the values and ideologies of both Brazil and the United States are close. China is an important trade and investment partner for Brazil. From an economic viewpoint, Brazil’s development should seek to establish a better partnership with China, but in terms of ideology and values, the Forbidden City is further away than the White House.
For Latin America, maintaining stable relations with the United States is a primary interest. After the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in Latin America, China – thanks to some of its medical equipment – did its best to help those countries mitigate the impact of the disease. A Chinese state-owned company responded to the call and promised to build a hospital with an in-patient module in a conference and exhibition centre in Panama to help infected patients, for only a small sum of money from the State.
Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo Cohen, however, rejected the proposal outright. In the end, Panama spent 12 million U.S. dollars and built 100 hospital beds and 26 intensive care units, without taking advantage of Chinese aid.
On April 16, Cortizo presided over the hospital’s opening ceremony, announcing that it was his own decision. Conversely, when former Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela (2014-19) was in power, he visited China, and Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi reciprocated by travelling to Panama.
At the time, President Varela said that the landmark project for the expansion of the Silk Road passed through Panama, as did the 4 billion dollar plan to expand the canal and railway from Panama to Costa Rica. The new President in power, however, has not followed the philosophy of his predecessor, terrified of displeasing the United States. Unfortunately, this news is not reported in the Italian press.
Gallup: Trump Globally the Least Respected U.S. President This Century
On January 15th, the Gallup World Poll issued its preliminary report for their upcoming “Rating World Leaders: 2021” report. It shows the results that have been tabulated for 60 of the 135 countries where they annually sample global public opinion about U.S. leadership. One especially clear finding from it is that when their final report for all 135 countries will be issued, it will show that among the three U.S. Presidencies on which Gallup has internationally surveyed — which are only the three U.S. Presidents in this century — Trump is clearly the one who is globally respected the least, even lower than George W. Bush was respected.
Here are the findings, in each of the 60 nations, and the percentage increase or decrease from Gallup’s last completed survey report, “Rating World Leaders: 2020”:
“Do you approve or disapprove of the job performance of the leadership of the United States?”
- Dominican Republic, 66% was 56% in 2020
- Cameroon, 62 was 61
- Georgia, 61 was 43
- Zambia, 56 was 26
- Albania, 56 was 67
- Philippines, 55 was 58
- Uganda, 53 was 47
- Mauritius, 50 was 59
- Zimbabwe, 50 was 59
- Ecuador, 43 was 34
- Colombia, 42 was 41
- Moldova, 40 was 45
- Brazil, 40 was 38
- Japan, 39 was 34
- Kyrgyzstan, 34 was 32
- Namibia, 34 was 31
- Bulgaria, 32 was 26
- Cambodia, 32 was 49
- Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China, 31 was 31
- Poland, 30 was 59
- South Korea, 30 was 41
- Bolivia , 30 was 31
- Australia, 29 was 23
- Taiwan, Province of China, 28 was 40
- New Zealand, 26 was 17
- Mexico, 26 was 17
- Malta, 26 was 30
- Ethiopia, 25 was 37
- Argentina, 24 was 26
- Ukraine, 24 was 32
- Greece, 21 was 19
- Croatia, 21 was 25
- Morocco, 21 was 22
- Serbia , 20 was 19
- Ireland, 20 was 30
- Finland, 20 was 20
- Slovenia, 19 was 20
- Cyprus, 19 was 27
- Tunisia, 19 was 24
- Italy, 19 was 22
- France, 18 was 23
- Russia, 18 was 11
- Netherlands, 18 was 20
- Canada, 17 was 22
- Spain, 17 was 23
- Chile, 16 was 16
- Estonia, 15 was 17
- United Kingdom, 15 was 25
- Denmark, 14 was 24
- Turkey, 13 was 12
- Slovakia, 13 was 28
- Norway, 12 was 15
- Portugal, 12 was 14
- Belgium, 12 was 17
- Sweden, 11 was 12
- Switzerland, 10 was 13
- Austria, 9 was 11
- Iran, 6 was 6
- Germany, 6 was 12
- Iceland, 5 was 9
Remarkably, Gallup doesn’t poll in China on this question. (Nor does Pew.)
Notably, Trump is more disapproved-of in Europe than in any other part of the world. (Also, as Pew reported on 16 December 2020, “In Europe, more trust Putin than Trump.”)
Those percentage-changes that we’ve just shown total to a decline, among all 60 countries, of 121 percentage-points (-121%), or, almost exactly, a -2% change from the 2019 findings that had been reported in Gallup’s “Rating World Leaders: 2020”.
Gallup says that “until all of Gallup’s 2020 fieldwork is complete in a few months, it is still too early to say that the U.S. will see its worst ranking in the history of Gallup’s World Poll.” However, Gallup’s “Rating World Leaders: 2020” report covered 135 lands, and the 60 lands that they have tabulated as of now, for the 2021 report, seem to be a representative sampling of all of those 135, and collectively those 60 populations have reduced their respect for America’s leadership by 2%. In the 2020 report, the global level of approval for America’s leadership was 33%. The all-time-low had been the 30% figure in 2017, Trump’s first year, a finding which was based on Trump’s promises, not on his performance. The upcoming final Gallup report “Rating World Leaders: 2021” will — if the results from those 60 lands do turn out to be representative of the global findings — produce a 31% global approval level by all of the approximately 135 lands that will be covered in it. For each of Trump’s four years, then, the global percentages will have been (for each one of his four years) 30%, 31%, 33%, and (now, in his final year) 31%. Each year, it was even lower than the prior record low, of George W. Bush, had been, at 34% in 2008.
There was higher disapproval than approval of America’s leadership during the Presidencies of George W. Bush and of Donald Trump than there was approval of either U.S. President’s leadership. Strikingly, however, there was higher approval than disapproval during (and throughout) the two terms of office of Barack Obama. That Nobel Peace Prize winner was/is internationally admired. (Crazy, but true: he was an international charmer.)
Here are summarized (with links to the evidence regarding) the actual chief international achievements of each of these three U.S. Presidents:
George W. Bush: destroying Iraq, and destroying Afghanistan.
Donald Trump: destroying Iran, and destroying Venezuela, while continuing his predecessors’ destructions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Ukraine. He also made the destruction of Palestine even worse than it had previously been.
So, the question regarding incoming U.S. President Joe Biden will be whether he will continue this tradition further, or reverse it. Because, it’s really all the same tradition, throughout all three U.S. Presidencies this century. By contrast, global perceptions are that those three U.S. Presidents were drastically different from one another.
On 15 September 290290, Pew bannered “U.S. Image Plummets Internationally as Most Say Country Has Handled Coronavirus Badly” and reported that:
The publics surveyed also see Trump more negatively than other world leaders. Among the six leaders included on the survey, Angela Merkel receives the highest marks: A median of 76% across the nations polled have confidence in the German chancellor. French President Emmanuel Macron also gets largely favorable reviews. Ratings for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are roughly split. Ratings for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are overwhelmingly negative, although not as negative as those for Trump.
Right above that was this graph, which shows starkly the false European perception that Barack Obama was vastly superior to George W. Bush and Donald Trump:
Apparently, most Europeans have no problem with a U.S. President who continues America’s use of torture, and who continues America’s legal immunity of prosecution for banksters, and who imposes ethnic cleansing abroad, and who aims for achieving a U.S. first-strike ability to conquer Russia by a sudden nuclear blitz attack. Style is everything, for them; substance is nothing, to them. Why didn’t they like Hitler? Is it only because he did it to them?
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