Mexico’s new president, Enrique Pena Nieto, will be President Obama’s counterpart throughout the American leader’s second term. Relations between the two countries have always been important, but have become especially so since the adoption in 1994 of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The U.S.-Mexican relationship also includes domestic political issues on both sides of the 2,000-mile-long border. For Mr. Obama, Mexican-American voters played an important role in his re-election. Paying attention to Mexico, and respect to its new president, wins points for Mr. Obama in American politics.
Immigration reform will need to be high on President Obama’s agenda in his second term. There are an estimated 12 million Mexicans in the United States — one tenth of the population of Mexico — and half of them are undocumented.
The flow of Mexican immigrants to the United States has slowed because of rising unemployment in this country. But Mr. Obama still must act on the immigration issue, if for no other reason than to deny Republicans a political opening among Hispanic voters.
President Nieto, 46, seeks to shift the focus of U.S.-Mexican relations from drugs and violence to the growth of the Mexican economy. Mexico’s economic growth this year will reach 4 percent, twice that of the United States and of Brazil, Mexico’s chief Latin American rival.
Mr. Nieto says he wants 6-percent annual growth by the end of his term in 2018. He looks primarily to Mexico’s energy sector — shale gas as well as oil — and to manufacturing, taking advantage of a skilled and relatively inexpensive labor force and NAFTA membership.
There are barriers: a weak judicial system, bribery and other corruption, inefficient monopolies in some key sectors, and a weak social infrastructure, despite free, universal health care.
Mr. Nieto’s recent visits to Washington and Canada created the foundations for a good start to his term and Mr. Obama’s second. Given the importance of the relationship, Mr. Obama must continue to pursue U.S. ties to Mexico and its new president.