by Ana Quintana & James Jay Carafano
The coronavirus arrived in Mexico one month after it invaded the United States. Now, it is hitting our southern neighbor hard. Mexico started the week with 8,772 confirmed cases, but Mexican health officials believe the real number is eight times higher.
Mexico lacks the capabilities needed to weather an epidemic. It has insufficient medical personnel, testing kits, and ventilators. There is a high probability this neighbor, our number one trading partner going into the pandemic, will be in very bad shape by the time it’s over.
Rebuilding will be a serious struggle for Mexico. The United States should lend a hand — and the sooner, the better. As our own progress in bringing the epidemic under control allows, we should start providing key countries with medical support. Mexico should be at the top of that list. Here are five reasons why.
A Dangerous dependence on China
Testing kits and personal protective equipment are essential to getting the disease under control. Mexico needs them, but there are few suppliers anywhere, except in China. Beijing has largely cornered the global PPE market, and it hoards lifesaving supplies. It is selling these items to Mexico, but not out of altruism. (Further, their testing kits and masks have proved to be unreliable.) Rather, China is trying to make a buck and cultivate the image of a life-saving benefactor. China’s attempt to cover up the coronavirus outbreak is what created this worldwide pandemic. The United States cannot let Beijing whitewash its crimes and profit from them. And our neighbors deserve medical supplies that actually work.
Better preparation for a second wave
Like much of the world, Mexico was caught off guard this time. That cannot happen again. Much is known about U.S.-Mexico cooperation on trade, security, and immigration, but there is also extensive collaboration on public health. We do not need to reinvent the wheel here. The existing mechanisms for cooperation are already in place.
Revitalizing America’s economy
North of the border, we also need Mexico to be back in business. While interests diverge in some areas, the robust trade relationship, particularly after the improvements in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, is a win for both countries. Six million American jobs are supported by the economic relationship. On an average day, $1.7 billion in manufactured goods and services cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
Yet social-distancing policies have dramatically scaled back economic productivity in both countries. Lacking in medical supplies, Mexico has shut down factories and limited other business operations. If the United States fails to facilitate Mexico’s recovery efforts, American businesses dependent on cross-border commerce will be vulnerable even after the United States opens up. Also, the direr the unemployment situation in Mexico, the greater the odds that we will see a rise in illegal immigration.
North American strength lowers reliance on China
Strengthening our partnerships with Mexico and Canada will allow us all to rely less on China in the global supply chain. Lessening vulnerabilities to U.S. supply chains is a key pillar of our economic reconstruction. China cannot be trusted to control important industries. Binational manufacturers in North America are uniquely suited to fix this problem. Companies were already moving production out of China and into Mexico before the pandemic. The United States and Mexico need to accelerate this trend.
Reinforcing the benefits of trade
A prosperous Mexico will heighten the benefits we receive from the USMCA. The trade deal will catalyze the American economy only if Canada and Mexico are up and running. Mexico has drastically scaled back its productive capacity to prevent a worsening of the outbreak. The United States wisely shipped 1,000 ventilators to Mexico last week to help mitigate the health crisis. As the United States’ health condition improves, we should increasingly provide medical assistance and coordinate economic recovery efforts.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador are not the only players in the effort to limit the health and economic damage resulting from the pandemic. Both countries need to give the private sector, civil society, and state and local officials — particularly those along the border — a seat at the table.
Border security is obviously a factor for both countries but so are the vital manufacturing industries along the border. Focusing on our common interests will help the bilateral relationship emerge stronger from this.
Ana Quintana is a senior policy analyst specializing in Latin America for The Heritage Foundation. James Jay Carafano is a Heritage Foundation vice president, in charge of the think tank’s research in matters of national security and foreign relations.