Why Harris Did Not Tackle Energy During López Obrador MeetingBy Cas Biekmann | Mon, 05/10/2021 - 12:35
During the past few months, the US has been vocal about Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s policy direction in the energy sector, pointing that measures that place Mexican companies PEMEX and CFE at the forefront have been detrimental to the investments and operations of US-based companies. But during a call between US Vice President Kamala Harris and President López Obrador, the tone stayed cordial and the matter of energy was only lightly addressed. This comes as no surprise considering the country’s diplomatic relationship, experts say.
“The videoconference between President López Obrador and Vice President Kamala Harris has concluded. It was a very cordial political dialogue based on substantial similarities. A close relationship built on trust and respect is being built,” tweeted Mexico’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marcelo Ebrard right after the meeting on May 7.
This might not have been the approach US investors and private companies hoped for. For example, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) voiced its concern about Mexico’s energy policy direction just last month. In 2020, companies and investors wrote a letter to Congress to raise the alarm. Before the meeting, Mexican newspaper Expansion predicted that Harris and López Obrador would find common ground in the pressing border-migration and vaccines issues but could butt heads when it came to energy policy.
The meeting did not go into the topic at all, according to El Economista. Before the meeting, López Obrador sent a diplomatic note asking Washington about its role in funding Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity, which he denounced as an “interventionist act that violated our sovereignty,” and as “promoting a form of coup.” Nevertheless, the President also stressed the commonalities between both countries and their need to cooperate.
Harris’ office released a statement after the meeting, which said that the countries would collaborate to fight unemployment, limited market access and climate change. Even though one could read concerns surrounding the energy sector ‘limited market access,’ energy itself does not appear to have been a main focus of the conversation.
Lisa Viscidi, Director of the Energy, Climate Change and Extractive Industries Program at Inter-American Dialogue, told BNAmericas that the US is already using the available tools to tackle the issue: “I do not know if the Biden administration will go beyond calling it out and being publicly critical, which is what slightly happened so far. There have been a couple of instances where US officials have stated their concerns about the nationalization of the energy sector, particularly because it really affects renewable investments. If it only affected oil and gas, I am not sure they would have criticized it,” she explained, later adding that “there is only so much the US can do,” since it cannot directly intervene within Mexico’s sovereign affairs.