No One’s Waiting for Washington

Filip Vojvodic-Medic
Kevin Cottrell
4 min read
Photo Credit: Sherry V Smith / Shutterstock
As the U.S. administration is pulling away from international cooperation around climate, security, and trade, leaders across California and Mexico are forging ahead with new initiatives to make progress on issues of global concern.

As the U.S. administration is pulling away from international cooperation around climate, security, and trade, leaders across California and Mexico are forging ahead with new initiatives to make progress on issues of global concern. GMF’s fourth Transatlantic Leadership Seminar took a group of 25 leaders from Europe and the United States on a nine day study tour to Sonoma County, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tijuana, and Mexico City to explore trends of relevance for the future of globalization. The single, most notable take away from more than 30 meetings and site visits is that no one is waiting for Washington to lead through these uncertain times.

On climate, California’s leaders are pursuing an active strategy to create a global network of partnerships with other states and provinces as well as nations, transnational organizations, and multinational corporations to actualize the commitments of the Paris Agreement. Governor Brown’s recent meetings with the President of China and leaders of the European Union and his speech at GMF’s Brussels office are all a testament to this new approach, as is California’s commitment to convene the Global Climate Action Summit with the United Nations and continue to grow the Under2 Coalition with Baden-Württemberg. As the world’s sixth largest economy, California has great leverage over U.S. corporations, and it has been using that leverage effectively to sustain national momentum to transition away from fossil fuel powered vehicles through market regulation. At the city level, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has led an historic effort to pass bond initiatives and build a business coalition for a new, more efficient, and climate-friendly transit system infrastructure for the second largest metro region in the United States.

Despite all the rhetoric about a 2,000 mile long wall on the U.S.–Mexico border as a solution to human and narcotics trafficking, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency is building on years of successful partnership with the Mexican authorities and major businesses to counter illicit flows. GPS tracking devices installed on United States-bound trucks are helping law enforcement agencies in collecting the necessary evidence to prosecute individuals caught in sophisticated screening systems. Mexican businesses are also providing essential data on traffickers’ possible support networks in the United States. Separately, ideas about legalizing cannabis in California and Mexico are being considered as a means of combating the black market and criminal organizations involved in its production, transit, and distribution. With all of this progress, Mexico-bashing rhetoric from the United States is heightening anti-American sentiment in Mexico itself, and it is putting all forms of security collaboration at risk. This includes collaboration against international terrorism as well as new security threats like the trafficking of China-sourced Fentanyl. If the United States is determined to continue to keep its citizens safe and put an end to the devastating opioid crisis, it will need a willing and committed partner on the Mexican side.

Where Washington stands to lose it all is with the abandonment of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The impact on Mexico, of course, would be devastating, which is why its national government is actively pursuing a whole range of new strategic partnership options. The hope is to open up new markets and global supply chains for Mexico’s highly competitive manufacturing sector. An expansion of the Global Agreement with the European Union is being actively negotiated, which could expand trade and investment flows. In a similar vein, Mexico is also exploring a possible membership in the Mercado Commún del Sur (MERCOSUR), a free trading block of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, as well as closer economic ties with China and other parts of Asia. Despite the fact that all these initiatives could not swiftly replace a sudden loss of free access to the United States market, they are all strengthening Mexico’s resolve and confidence to move away from a single strategic partner to many in its global engagement.

Be it on climate, security, or trade, no one is waiting for Washington any more. As retrenchment becomes the narrative at the national level in the United States, leaders at the subnational level are stepping up and forming all sorts of partnerships to sustain the momentum around global priorities and forge new solutions for emerging challenges. Alongside this exciting new development, other national governments are diversifying their strategic partnerships and reducing their dependence on any single actor for security and stability. With its commitment to leadership development, GMF will continue to monitor these developments and enable leaders to acquire the know-how to benefit from these and other trends.