Unfortunately, among Mexico’s comparative advantages in international competition for investment and jobs have always been cheap labor, sweetheart unions and lax environmental protections in deed, if not in law. As these shameful traits fade away, many investors may, of course, do the same. If all of this occurred in the context of a booming economy in the United States and a strong one in Mexico, the impact would be softened. But given the unease President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador inspires in the business community, these changes, though crucial, are also perilous.
Felipe González, Spain’s socialist prime minister between 1982 and 1996, who is known as the architect of his country’s ascent to modernity, often referred to the need for “anchoring” Spain’s progress abroad. Well-acquainted with his country’s past demons, he meant that only by joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Economic Community could the Spanish avoid regression and accomplish modernization. Time has proved him right.
The U.S.M.C.A. is not the Treaty of Rome, which set the foundations of the European Union, by a long shot. Canada initially sought to include human, Indigenous and gender rights provisions in the new agreement, as well as making it a potent force against climate change. Mexico’s 1999 free trade agreement with the European Union includes a democracy and human rights clause. The Canadians eventually gave up, though, and nothing of this came about this time, a fate that might have been expected with Mr. Trump in the White House. A pity, but if the United States president elected in November believes in these goals, they can be revisited.
In the end, the U.S.M.C.A. could have been much better for Mexico, but it offers the country an opportunity: modernization in significant realms of national life. Having thankfully eliminated the notion of authoritarian modernization, this is the road best traveled. Or rather, most likely the only one.
Jorge G. Castañeda (@JorgeGCastaneda), Mexico’s foreign minister from 2000 to 2003, is a professor at New York University and a contributing opinion writer.