Monday, May 20, 2024

The United States and Mexico sought to project a united front on Thursday in their efforts to deepen economic ties and crack down on illicit drug smuggling as the Biden administration looks to solidify its North American supply chain and reduce reliance on China.

At the conclusion of three days of meetings in Mexico City, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen announced that the U.S. and Mexico would begin working more closely to screen foreign investments coming into both countries with a new working group to weed out potential national security threats.

The collaboration comes as the administration looks to ensure that allies such as Mexico are able to partake of the billions of dollars of domestic energy and climate investments that the United States is deploying. However, as the administration seeks closer cross-border economic integration, it wants to ensure that Mexico is not the recipient of potentially problematic investments from countries such as China.

“Increased engagement with Mexico will help maintain an open investment climate while monitoring and addressing security risks, making both our countries safer,” Ms. Yellen said at a news conference on Thursday.

In Mexico, Ms. Yellen has had to strike a delicate balance, pushing her counterparts there to work harder to confront fentanyl trafficking into the U.S. while trying to deepen economic ties at a time when China is also investing heavily to build factories there.

Ms. Yellen has embraced Mexico, America’s largest trading partner, as a friendly ally during her trip — visiting drug-sniffing dogs and holding talks with top Mexican leaders. But there is growing frustration within the Biden administration over what officials perceive as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s unwillingness to invest in efforts to combat fentanyl trafficking in the region. An increasing number of U.S. officials have become more outspoken in recent months over the need to pressure Mexico to do more to crack down on fentanyl.

“The illicit trafficking of fentanyl devastates families and communities and poses a threat to our national security while also undermining public safety in Mexico,” Ms. Yellen said.

Nearly 110,000 people died last year of drug overdoses in the United States, a crisis that U.S. officials say is largely driven by the chemical ingredients for fentanyl getting shipped from China to Mexico and turned into the potent synthetic drug that is then trafficked over the southern border into the United States.

Mr. López Obrador has generally rejected the notion that fentanyl is produced in his nation and described the U.S. drug crisis as a “problem of social decay.” He has argued that American politicians should not use his country as a scapegoat for the record number of overdoses in the United States. The growing number of fentanyl-related deaths have fueled calls by Republican presidential candidates to take military action against Mexico.

In February, Anne Milgram, the Drug Enforcement Administration administrator, said her agency was still not receiving sufficient information from Mexican authorities about fentanyl seizures or the entry of precursor chemicals in that country, and that the United States was increasingly concerned over the number of laboratories used to produce fentanyl in Mexico.

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