Last Friday, The Wilson Center's Mexico Institute and the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI) hosted an online conversation with US ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau on his vision of the future of the bilateral relationship between Mexico and the US amid COVID-19, including the supply chain disruption both countries are facing. “There is a lot of success stories as well, frankly, as a lot of frustration about the lack of coordination in other things like essential industries. I want to accentuate the positive and acknowledge the negative,” said Amb. Landau.
Landau was appointed Ambassador to Mexico in August 2019, filling a chair that remained vacant for over 15 months. COVID-19 has been one of the top priorities for Amb. Landau. In late March, when the US and Canada decided to close borders, he labeled these as “the most dramatic moments” of his time in Mexico. “Everything became very real very suddenly during March. The virus hit different countries on different times. As community infection was starting to be noticed in the US, there really were just very first cases here in Mexico. Mexicans were very concerned that the US, because of what it was doing with Canada, might close the border. (However) there was really never a discussion on anybody's part to close commerce. That shows how far advanced we are in economic integration.”
Regarding supply chain disruptions, Amb. Landau recalled the 30 years of economic integration that North American countries have gone through since NAFTA to improve the wealth of the region. “I am concerned about North American supply chains; it is a very intricated system where so many companies at stake. Not only the big ones like GM or Ford, but also little companies that made alarm systems have certain components made in Mexico.” Automotive manufacturing in Mexico and the US remains suspended since early April and last month only 3,722 new units were assembled in Mexico.
“At the end of March, President López Obrador put the Health Ministry here in control of defining the essential industries. He gave them the authority to stop non-essential industries in the country and put that implementation in the hands primarily of the Health Ministry. As it might be expected, this was done in a compressed time table; they came up with a pretty narrow list of what our industries are essential: basically health, security and food chains. We in the US came up with some guidelines at the federal level that have been implemented to a certain extent in the states,” said Landau. Measures in the US are substantially more inclusive when it comes to essential activities than the Mexican ones, according to him.
The US Ambassador to Mexico highlights the work the Embassy has done with federal and state governments in Mexico to exempt US companies that will eventually be allowed to open in the US and need supplies from their Mexican facilities. “There has not been in Mexico a formal procedure for companies to petition to the Mexican Government ‘we need to reopen this supply.’ It is going to be really important as we come out of this and look to the future to have some kind of mechanism in place,” said Amb. Landau.
“No one wants to inflict unnecessary harm on their own country’s economy or on North American supply chains, but it (reopening) also has to be done in a way that takes into account legitimate health concerns,” he said. According to Landau, in the US the automotive sector will reopen on May 18.
The US Ambassador to Mexico stresses the need to understand the sudden context under which governments had had to act. "I am a very frank person. I am not blaming any particular person or government. I just think none of the countries really proceeded in a coordinated fashion. That is understandable when you have a sudden crisis like this and particularly when you have federal republics with significant authorities and responsibilities at state and local levels,” he said. “We are in this together.”