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Desalinated Water from Mexico

An Israel-based company–IDE Technologies–is proposing to build a $5.5 billion water desalination plant in Mexico with the majority of the water being piped to Arizona.

Seawater would be drawn from the Sea of Cortez in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, desalinated, then shared with some local Mexican cities and Arizona. The majority of the water would be pipped 200 miles into Arizona. The company claims it could provide up to 1 million acre-feet annually of water for at least 100 years providing the annual water needs of an estimated 3 million households (2.6 million in Arizona). An initial phase, which could be completed within the next 4-5 years, would provide 300K acre-feet of water.

Arizona currently uses upwards of 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year. While this kind of project would not meet Arizona’s water needs, it could meet a significant portion of demand for the long term. Water buyers (e.g., the State of Arizona) would have to put $750 million into escrow to prove a long-term commitment to the project before the company commits to building and operating a desalination facility.

This kind of project moving forward may still be a long shot, however. The project was supported by the prior Arizona governor, and the Arizona Water Infrastructure Finance Authority voted to move forward right before the governor’s term ended. It is not yet clear that the current governor’s administration also supports the project, though this could change quickly with another summer of drought and rapidly declining water resources via the Colorado River. There are also environmental permitting and foreign policy considerations on the American side that have only begun to be assessed.

From Mexico’s standpoint, there potentially could be nationalistic backlash against scarce water resources being pipped away from Mexico. And, local Sonora State support may depend on how much water stays in the local region. That said, Mexico President Manuel López Obrador recently expressed support for the plan as long as assessments show that the plans are not opposed and the facility poses no problem to the environment; that they would be “authorizing everything.”

(posted: 2-21-23)


Genetically-Modified Corn & Mexico

After a summit in Mexico City between President Biden and Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (January 9-10), US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack indicated that there was no resolution of dispute with Mexico on genetically-modified corn (GMO). He said that the US will not back down on its stance against Mexico’s plan to ban GMO corn imports.

At the end of 2020, the Mexican government announced that it will phase out imports of GMO corn by 2024, as well as the use of glyphosate which is generally used in tandem with GMO corn. The problem: more than 90% of US-produced corn is GMO corn, and is also grown using glyphosate.

Mexico currently imports an estimated 16 billion tons of US corn worth more than $4.5 billion, most of which is GMO yellow corn used for livestock or industrial purposes. Mexico is the second largest market for US corn exports, behind China.

Mexico grows white corn for human consumption domestically. Precisely why Mexico wants to phase out GMO corn imports could be based on a mix of several reasons, including that:

  • Corn is deeply rooted in Mexico’s culture and identity. GMO corn is banned from being grown in Mexico in favor of domestic, non-GMO white corn varieties.

  • Varieties of corn have been known to cross-pollinate, and there is concern about the degradation of Mexican corn varieties, as well as human health, if GMO corn obtained by Mexican persons is accidentally or purposefully used for farming.

  • Glyphosate has a bad reputation as the active ingredient in Roundup weedkiller; the company which owns this product–Bayer AG–has had a mixed court case record from persons claiming the product causes cancer. US farmers are true believers in the product, however; farmers apparently love it from both cost and effectiveness perspectives, using it for a variety of agricultural products.

  • While cross-border trade-loosening under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) may have provided net benefits to Mexico, some believe it disproportionately undermined Mexican agriculture, particularly with respect to corn (see a 2018 article by The Counter).

The United States strongly disagrees with Mexico’s GMO corn decision, and has been working to negotiate a resolution to this matter, though there has so far been no breakthrough. The Wall Street Journal reported (November 30) that Mexico is offering to extend the deadline on yellow corn for livestock fodder through 2025, but that any corn for human consumption will be banned by the deadline.

The US is threatening to take the matter through the dispute settlement within the current U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, but time is running out. Mexico has so far not relented and US farmers are beginning to plan for production that would be exported into Mexico after the deadline.

(updated: 1-11-23)


Infrastructure Improvement and the Tijuana River

The United States and Mexico announced (August 18) an agreement to collaboratively invest in priority wastewater projects in San Diego and Tijuana. The United States will contribute $330 million and Mexico $144 million in funding.

The priority projects are expected to result in a 50% reduction in the number of days of transboundary wastewater flow in the Tijuana River, and an 80% reduction in the volume of untreated wastewater discharged to the Pacific Ocean six miles south of the border. The projects will be completed by 2027.

The primary projects encompass the doubling of capacity of the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant (SBIWTP) in the United States, and the construction of a new treatment plant in Mexico at San Antonio de los Buenos. Upon completion, these two projects will ensure that the amount of Mexican sewage undergoing treatment in the region will increase by 43 million gallons per day, reducing sewage discharges in both the Tijuana River and the Pacific Ocean. Other key projects include the rehabilitation/replacement of deteriorated sewer lines and pump stations in Tijuana to reduce line breaks and pump failures that result in sewage spills.

(updated: 8-24-22)


Asylum Claims and Remain in Mexico Policy

The Biden Administration announced (August 8th) that it is ending the Remain in Mexico Policy, also known as the Migrant Protection Protocols policy, "in a quick, and orderly, manner." In June, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 majority opinion (June 30th) that the Biden Administration does have discretionary authority to take this action. Texas had successfully challenged lower courts the Biden Administration’s efforts to rescind the policy, and the Supreme Court reversed lower court rulings. A District Court judge lifted its injunction this week as a result.

Existing US immigration law generally permits the return of immigrants seeking asylum to a contiguous country while their case is being adjudicated, though the key exception is for immigrants with a "credible fear" of danger if they remained in their country of origin. The Trump Administration implemented so-called Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the Remain in Mexico Policy, which had the effect of ensuring that the vast majority of applicants claiming asylum would have to wait in Mexico while their case is adjudicated even if such persons were not Mexican citizens.

The Biden Administration attempted to cancel the MPP program in June 2021, but a Texas Federal District Court decision (August 2021) concluded that the Biden Administration violated administrative procedure by not adequately considering the benefits of MPP before setting the policy aside. The Supreme Court subsequently rejected an appeal by the Administration to set aside the District Court ruling, which necessitated the Administration reinstating MPP while continuing to pursue court challenges. In a February, 2022 Congressional hearing, DHS reported that more than 1,600 persons were enrolled in MPP and nearly 900 were returned to Mexico to await immigration court hearings.

While the Remain in Mexico policy is now lifted, Title 42 immigration restrictions under public health law remain in place under an order of a Federal District Court as it adjudicates a case against the United States on its plan to remove Title 42 restrictions with the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

(updated: 8-9-22)


Mexican Avocado Importation

The United States announced that it lifted a suspension of Mexican avocado imports imposed on February 12, 2022, after a personal threat was made to a U.S. safety inspector from the Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS). Details of the threat are not publicly known, but APHIS says that it worked with Mexico since the suspension to implement "additional measures to enhance the safety of APHIS inspectors working in the field."

According to USDA data, Mexico is the world’s largest producer of avocados, accounting for 30% of global production. There are more than 29,000 producers in Michoacán, the Mexican State where the inspection threat occurred. The United States imports about 80% of all Mexican production in Michoacán. APHIS administers Cooperative Service Agreements with the Government of Mexico to provide pre-clearance and oversight of avocado exports to the United States from the Michoacán State. Under the Avocado Pre-clearance program, APHIS ensures all import requirements are met, and avocado exports are pest-free through the cooperative efforts of USDA and the Mexican government. And, Michoacán avocados enter the U.S. duty free.

Outside of Mexico, the second largest producer country that imports into the United States, is Peru. The United States produces its own avocados, principally in California, Florida, and Hawaii, but production is relatively very small relative to Mexico. The value of U.S. production in 2020 amounted to just $426 million, while Mexican production was estimated to be $2.8 billion.

(updated: 2-26-22)


U.S.-Mexico Bicentennial Framework

The United States and Mexico jointly announced the beginning of a process (December 2021) to develop a new security framework between the two countries. This follows the announcement of this effort after a High Level Security Dialogue in October 2021. 

A "Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities", is intended to update the prior framework -- the Merida Initiative -- implemented during the Bush Administration. These agreements cover a wide range of issues such as violent crime, drug trafficking, and travel. 

(updated: 2-2-22)


Connected Policies


No Results Found

Binational Cooperation  on Transboundary Issues in the Tijuana River Basin (Minute 320)
Binational Cooperation on Transboundary Issues in the Tijuana River Basin (Minute 320)

This is an agreement between Mexico and the United States via the International Boundary and Water Commission regarding a general framework for cooperating on water and sanitation matters, particularly with respect to sewage flow and infrastructure needs.

Status: The agreement has been in place since 2015. The United States recently agreed to invest $474 million in infrastructure improvements to address longstanding flow issues that led significant pollution in San Diego's waters, in particular.

Remain in Mexico Policy
Remain in Mexico Policy

Remain in Mexico policy requires most asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated.

Status: the program was effectively suspended at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic given that U.S. borders were closed anyway, and the Biden Administration formally suspended the policy upon entering office. The formal suspension of the policy was challenged in court by Texas and Missouri, and the court ordered the Trump Administration policy to be reinstated. The policy generally remains in effect as legal processes continue, though DHS implemented some operational changes.


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