U.S. and Mexico: Ties That Bind

BY Larisa Epatko  June 20, 2012 at 10:26 AM EST

Central de Abasto, Mexico City’s main wholesale produce market. Photo by Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

As Mexicans move to elect a new president on July 1, whoever wins the keys to the official residence, or Los Pinos, will be tied to the United States in a number of ways: on border security, as trading partners, and as a top energy supplier to its northern neighbor.

“There’s probably no other country in the world that’s as intertwined with the United States. Our economies are intertwined; Mexico is now the second destination for U.S. exports and the third largest trading partner overall,” said Shannon O’Neil, fellow for Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The U.S. automotive, food, and computer and electronics industries depend on Mexican consumers, said O’Neil. “For 21 out of 50 states, Mexico is the No. 1 or No. 2 destination for their exports,” she said. “And it’s not just the states on the border that have huge trade with Mexico, but as far away as New Hampshire, Vermont, Michigan and Indiana.”

Mexico also is a friendly source of oil, O’Neil noted. It’s the United States’ third largest supplier behind Canada and Saudi Arabia, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“So keeping our lights on and our cars going depend today much on Mexico,” she said.

Since the two countries share a border, they also share the problems and responsibilities of regulating the environment, preventing drug trafficking and maintaining security.

Every president of Mexico has had a different take on U.S. relations, but all of the top contenders in the current race have indicated they will work with the United States, said O’Neil.

The economy in Mexico is recovering faster than the United States. Helping transform Mexico’s economy is a growing middle class, she said. View a chart of GDP growth in both countries:

Source: World Bank

“Thirty-plus years ago, Mexico was a commodity-driven, oil-driven, inward-looking economy,” said O’Neil. “Today it is a manufacturing and services-based economy, export-led with a focus on the U.S. market and that is fundamentally different than just a few decades ago.”

Partly because of Mexico’s economic growth, immigration between the two countries has slowed to a net zero last year. The slowdown also can be attributed to a demographic shift in Mexico in the last several years, O’Neil said. “There are fewer Mexicans turning 18 and looking for jobs than there were in the past. And more and more Mexicans are staying in school longer and investing in their future and investing in their skills. So they’re not leaving the country. They’re not thinking about going abroad at 15 or 16 anymore, they’re staying in school.”

Mexico is becoming an increasingly urban society as well, said O’Neil. “So the old days of a campesino (peasant) wearing a sombrero riding a burro — it’s a reality for a few Mexicans now, but very few. It’s a more urban society. And that’s a total transformation from back in the ’50s or ’60s.”

Helping drive the current conditions is a transformed government. “There are still problems with corruption, accountability and transparency — in particular at the state level,” she said. “But it also is a democracy. They’re about to have elections that almost everywhere in the world people think are going to be free and fair. And that’s something new.”

The NewsHour will be covering the presidential and parliamentary elections in Mexico on July 1 with on-air and online reports leading up to and including Election Day. Browse all of our Mexico coverage and follow us on Twitter.