The United States and Mexico try to promote trade while curbing the flow of fentanyl

The United States and Mexico sought Thursday to project a united front in their efforts to deepen economic ties and combat illicit drug trafficking, as the Biden administration seeks to solidify its north-west supply chain. American and to reduce its dependence on China.

Following three days of meetings in Mexico City, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen announced that the United States and Mexico would begin working more closely to screen foreign investments coming into both countries with a new group of work responsible for eliminating potential threats to national security.

The collaboration comes as the administration seeks to ensure that allies such as Mexico can participate in the billions of dollars in 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 like China.

“Increased engagement with Mexico will help keep climate investment open while monitoring and addressing security risks, making both our countries more secure,” Yellen said at a news conference Thursday.

In Mexico, Ms. Yellen has had to strike a delicate balance, pushing her Mexican counterparts to step up efforts to combat fentanyl trafficking into the United States while trying to deepen economic ties at a time when China is also investing massively to build factories there.

Ms. Yellen kissed Mexico, The largest trading partner of the United States, as a friendly ally during her trip – visiting drug-sniffing dogs and speaking with senior Mexican leaders. But there is growing frustration within the Biden administration over what officials perceive as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s reluctance to invest in efforts to combat fentanyl trafficking in the region. A growing number of U.S. officials have become more outspoken in recent months about the need to pressure Mexico to do more to crack down on fentanyl.

“Illicit trafficking in fentanyl devastates families and communities and poses a threat to our national security while compromising public safety in Mexico,” 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 due to fentanyl’s chemical ingredients being shipped from China to Mexico and transformed into a powerful designer drug that is then trafficked across the southern border. …in the USA.

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

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

And in October, on the eve of Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s visit with President López Obrador to Mexico, Todd Robinson, State Department assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, said to the New York Times that the Mexican president was without recognizing the seriousness of the drug crisis in the region.

The Mexican president would prefer to be in the category of “someone who has a problem but doesn’t know it,” he said.

Mr. Robinson, along with Treasury Department officials, also say Mexico needs to do more to strengthen its ports to intercept fentanyl precursors from China. Republicans and Democrats are particularly concerned about the port of Manzanillo, Mexico, which they say is a favored hub for fentanyl precursors.

Meanwhile, the United States is increasingly relying on Treasury Department tools to target drug organizations in Mexico that traffic dangerous drugs into the United States.

Brian Nelson, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department, said in an October interview that the department would continue to use sanctions to pressure cartel organizations and suppliers of fentanyl chemicals.

“We will continue to use our tools to map and trace precursor network suppliers entering Mexico from foreign countries, including China; money laundering organizations that support the financial flows that enable this criminal enterprise,” Nelson said.

The Treasury Department accelerated those efforts this week with the creation of a new “fentanyl strike force” that will aim to more aggressively examine the finances of suspected drug traffickers. On Wednesday, Yellen announced that the Treasury Department was imposing new sanctions against 15 Mexican individuals and two companies linked to the Beltrán Leyva organization, a major distributor of fentanyl in the United States.

As the Biden administration attempts to curb the flow of drugs from Mexico, Yellen highlighted the desire to increase trade between the two countries and noted that the United States benefits from imports of steel, iron, glass and Mexican cars. rooms.

The U.S. Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 allows U.S. consumers to benefit from tax credits for electric vehicles assembled in Mexico, and Yellen has said she wants to see the auto sector’s supply chain more closely integrated between the two countries.

“The United States continues to pursue what I have called “Friend-shoring”: seeking to strengthen our economic resilience by diversifying our supply chains across a broad range of trusted allies and partners,” he said. said Ms. Yellen.

At the press conference, Yellen objected to the idea that the United States was encouraging Mexico to adopt tougher foreign investment protection measures because it wanted to deter Chinese investment there. .

“As long as there are appropriate national security controls and these investments do not create national security concerns for Mexico or the United States, we have absolutely no problem with China investing in Mexico to produce goods and services that will be imported into the United States. “said Ms. Yellen.