ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: President Trump said today that he will begin to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement when he meets with the leaders of Canada and Mexico. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto will be coming to Washington on January 31st. Pena Nieto says he wants an open dialogue with Mr. Trump who's vowed to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and make Mexico pay for it.
For more analysis of this meeting, I am joined by Skype from Mexico City by "Washington Post" reporter Josh Partlow.
So, Josh, what is the biggest issue facing the Mexican people as these two presidents meet?
JOSH PARTLOW, WASHINGTON POST: I think the biggest issue that will affect most Mexicans is the trade issue. You know, President Trump has said he's going to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA, and for Mexicans, that's a huge deal. The economic changes that have happened here over the past two decades have been pretty extreme and that's something they don't want to lose.
So, I think the wall while it may have a more symbolic or — symbolic impact, the trade issues are really the ones that strike fear into the heart of the government here.
STEWART: Let's talk about that Mexican wall that Mr. Trump says he's going to build and claims he is going to get Mexican pay for it. Where has the Mexican president come down on this?
PARTLOW: They've been really clear all along that they're not going to pay for the wall. That's one thing they have been consistent with. The Mexican government has said that over and over, and that Mexican President Pena Nieto had said that over and over, including just a couple of days ago.
So, that's something that I don't think at least — you know, I don't think that's going to change.
STEWART: Pena Nieto's approval rating has been in a downward spiral, at least at 12 percent by one account. How much of that has to do with how he's handled things at home, and how much of that has to do with how he's handled Mr. Trump thus far?
PARTLOW: How he's handled Mr. Trump has definitely given his approval ratings another kick downwards. I mean, he hasn't been popular here for a couple of years. There have been a lot of scandals here in Mexico during his administration, which has lasted about four years now. The economy is not doing very well. And he's not very popular. He has not been popular for a long time.
But the Trump visit, particularly in August, was a big deal for a lot of Mexicans. President Pena Nieto invited Donald Trump to come visit while he was still a candidate. And they stood side-by-side and it was seen by many here as something that legitimized Donald Trump's campaign, even after Trump had said numerous insults against Mexicans. So, that was seen — that was something that really was unpopular for a lot of Mexicans.
STEWART: Mexico's foreign minister said this about Mexico's position in this negotiation about trade, that Mexico will negotiate with, quote, "great self-confidence, without fear, knowing the economic, social, and political importance that Mexico has for the United States." That framing is very different than what we've been hearing. Is there truth in that, that we're so intertwined, that Mexico can come to these trade negotiations from a power — a position of power in some ways?
PARTLOW: Yes, I think it there is definitely truth that the two economies are extremely interconnected. There is something like $500 billion of trade each year, back and forth, between the two countries. But, you know, it's also clear that Mexico is the weaker partner here. And they have a lot more to lose than the United States does.
I don't think they have no leverage. They can impose tariffs on American goods, coming too Mexico just as easily as the United States can do that to Mexican exports going to the United States.
STEWART: Joining us from Mexico City, Josh Partlow from the "Washington Post" — thank you.
PARTLOW: Thank you.