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Mexico’s election delivers new leader to tackle old problems

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While Americans still face a long season of political campaigning, more than 80 other nations have completed their federal elections this year or are about to go to the polls.

For example, France’s general elections will be held June 30, the United Kingdom’s on July 4, and Venezuela, July 28. Previously, the European Union completed parliamentary elections June 9, India’s two-month long election ended June 4, and South Africa’s election concluded May 29.

From an American farmer’s perspective, perhaps the most interesting 2024 election to date was posted by our second biggest ag customer, Mexico. On June 2, our southern neighbor elected a political novice, Claudia Sheinbaum, as president.

Sheinbaum couldn’t be more different than any one of Mexico’s long line of often wealthy, sometimes corrupt past presidents, explained Dan Restrepo, an expert on Latin American politics and business, on a recent Pod Save the World podcast.

According to Restrepo, Mexico, a country known for its “machismo,” or manliness, Catholicism, and political cronyism, now has a female Jewish outsider as president. And, he added, she’s “a technocrat and climate expert.”

Equally impressive, Sheinbaum, the recent mayor of Mexico City, didn’t just win; she crushed her opponent by amassing “the largest number of votes… in Mexico’s political history.” How do you say “mandate” in Spanish?

It may take a “mandato” for Sheinbaum, the first woman to be elected leader of any NAFTA nation, to surpass the success of her predecessor and mentor, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known better as AMLO, when she is sworn in on Oct. 1.

In his (by law) single, six-year term, AMLO delivered huge wins and also suffered large losses. For example, the popular president raised Mexico’s minimum wage 116% to both attract international business — which it did — and stem the flood of Latin and South American migrants passing through Mexico on their way to the U.S. — which it didn’t.

Simultaneously, he had virtually zero success in taming Mexico’s notorious drug cartels and their gruesome gang violence. That puts both problems, immigration enforcement and cartel crackdown, high on Sheinbaum’s to-do list.

Each, however, has a critical American component. Much of Mexico’s drug demand — and its almost unlimited supply of guns — is tied to almost bottomless U.S. markets. So, too, is the U.S. service economy’s insatiable appetite for cheap, illegal immigrant labor.

American agriculture, whether it admits it or not, is one of the largest beneficiaries of this river of illegal immigrants. It is estimated that at least 45% of all migrant laborers working on U.S. farms do so illegally.

Mexico and the U.S. face two other ag problems as Sheinbaum awaits the election of her American counterpart: a bitter trade fight with the U.S. over Mexican import restrictions on genetically modified corn and glyphosate and a fight over a 1944 treaty that manages water usage of the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers.

The trade fight — because it centers on only about 600,000 tons of white corn from the U.S., or just a tiny share of the 16.5 million tons of U.S. corn Mexico imported last year — should be easy to settle: carve out a GM-free/glyphosate-free exemption for the piddling amount of American food-grade white corn exported south and go in peace.

But not the Biden Administration; it won't concede one kernel. Neither will Sheinbaum, however, who recently promised to fight Uncle Sam’s GM strident trade rules.

The water dispute centers on Mexico’s failure to deliver on the terms of a 1944 treaty governing shared water of the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers. Mexico claims it can’t deliver what it promised 80 years ago because climate change has brought drought, not deliverable water.

Want to bet which side of that argument Mexico’s President-Elect Claudia Sheinbaum, a Nobel Prize-sharing climate scientist, is on?

The Farm and Food File is published weekly throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Alan Guebert, Farm and Food File

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