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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

As Trump takes office, Mexican priests hear concerns over economic future

Priests in factory towns say they’re hearing concerns from parishioners as US President Donald Trump demands companies stop investing into Mexico and start returning jobs north of the border.

On 22nd January, Trump said he had set up meetings with Mexican and Canadian leaders to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he has said benefited Mexico the most and has described as “the worst trade deal maybe signed anywhere.” NAFTA allows more than $500 billion (£400 billion) in annual trade between Mexico and the United States.

Under NAFTA, parts of Mexico have boomed, such as an area known as the El Bajio region to the north and west of Mexico City, where automotive manufacturers moved in and growth rates were at times on par with places like China. Manufacturing also started underpinning the economy in many parts of the country and replacing income from oil sales as a source of foreign reserves.

Critics contend that wages have stayed stubbornly low, while rural areas suffered an outflow and, in much of the country, the growth of the last 20 years has underwhelmed and failed to propel Mexico to the ‘First World’ status NAFTA proponents had promised.

But Trump’s talk tough and tweet storms – in which he tells manufacturers to move production north – have caused investment uncertainty and sent the peso plunging to record low levels.

Ford announced plans in early January to forgo a $1.6 billion (£1.2 billion) investment in the state of San Luis Potosi, deepening fears that manufacturing, toward which the Mexican economy has oriented in recent years, might slow.

Many Mexicans “think Trump is going to force these companies to close their Mexican plants and they will all be out of work,” said Fr Robert Coogan, a US priest in Saltillo, a city about 190 miles from the Texas border at Laredo. The automobile industry in Saltillo has expanded rapidly in recent years.

The Diocese of Matamoros includes Reynosa, home to many maquiladoras, or factories for export.

Fr Alan Camargo, diocesan spokesman, told Catholic News Service: “The experience up until now is that there’s been fear, but no unemployment. … There’s uncertainty, but people are still employed, and even more people are still arriving from other states.”

Representatives of Reynosa’s maquiladora industry and municipal government say newcomers continue arriving in the border city of 600,000 people, where unemployment is nonexistent; government statistics show jobs in the maquiladoras increased 13 per cent in 2016.

“New projects have stopped until we know how things are going to work under Trump, but those that are here are continuing with their expansion,” said Martha Ramos, director of Index Reynosa, the maquiladoras’ business association.

Picture: Demonstrators take part in a protest against a fuel price hike in Mexico City. (CNS photo/Carlos Jasso, Reuters).