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Will Trump try upstaging AMLO to score foreign-policy points?

Trump may play Lopez Obrador like a fiddle for his own political gain, but AMLO could win, too, if he announces policy changes to lure foreign investment and resume growth, says Andres Oppenheimer

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President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during an event to sign an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement, at the National Palace in Mexico City, in July 2019. Photo: AP

Three former Mexican foreign ministers have said that the odds are President Trump will be the big winner of a July 9 White House meeting with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

But columnist Andres Oppenheimer, writing for the Miami Herald, questions the conventional wisdom in Mexico’s political circles is that Trump will make AMLO look like a fool.

The meeting “could also be a golden opportunity for Mexico” if Lopez Obrador takes advantage of the visit.

The stated purpose of the visit, Lopez Obrador’s first foreign trip as president, is to promote the USMCA free-trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada. Trump needs to score a foreign-policy victory before the November elections, said Oppenheimer.

“His much-heralded Middle East Peace plan has never taken off. His much-promoted summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has not resulted in anything but a propaganda victory for North Korea’s tyrant. His promises to bring down Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro have not materialized. The list goes on,” said the writer.

So Trump will now try to highlight the trade deal as a huge achievement. It will also offer him the photo opportunity to portray himself as a world leader.

Second, Trump will use this political show to divert attention from his disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic. That’s exactly his tactic in August 2016, when, as a candidate, he visited Mexico’s then-President Enrique Peña Nieto. Just hours later, Trump delivered a fiery anti-immigration speech in Arizona, Oppenheimer notes.

Trump also has the border wall and Mexico’s relationship with Venezuela and Cuba as issues that play to his base.

“But Lopez Obrador could, if he wanted, turn the visit in his favor and use the world stage he will have in Washington to signal major changes to his outdated state-centered economic policies, which have scared away investments, reduced growth and are increasing poverty,” said Oppenheimer. “Lopez Obrador desperately needs an economic rebound. When he took office in 2018, he promised to make Mexico’s economy grow by 4% annually. Instead, Mexico’s economy shrank by 0.1% last year, before the pandemic, and the International Monetary Fund is projecting a whopping 10.5 contraction for this year. It will be one of Latin America’s biggest economic slumps.”

Will it happen? Don’t bet on it, says Oppenheimer.

“I’m not too hopeful,” he wrote. “Lopez Obrador is not even planning to bring with him a delegation from the private sector.”

Argentina-born Andres Oppenheimer is a foreign affairs columnist with the Miami Herald, anchor of “Oppenheimer Presenta” on CNN En Español, and author of seven books. His column, “The Oppenheimer Report,” appears twice a week in the Miami Herald and more than 60 U.S. and international newspapers, including Reforma in Mexico City.

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