The new U.S. ambassador to Mexico cuts a striking figure.
Well north of six-feet tall, Christopher Landau can command a room. Based on the way he laughed and backslapped—but also listened intently—at a special welcoming reception held in his honor by the American Society of Mexico late last month, he’ll be just as comfortable on the diplomatic cocktail party circuit in Mexico City as he will be in negotiating thorny issues with the Mexican government.
The event featured a chat between Ambassador Landau and Larry Rubin—one of the Mexico’s most prominent American business leaders—before a packed room of more than 500 government and business representatives from both countries. As the conversation made clear to all of us who were there, Landau’s a first-time diplomat, but he’s not unprepared.
Born in Spain and fluent in Spanish, the Harvard Law School graduate is the son of a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, Paraguay and Chile. His ease handling questions about the U.S.-Mexico binational relationship and the warmth he displayed in working the room left those of us in the audience confident that he’s up to the task.
On the job barely two months, his carries the weighty responsibility of representing American interests at one of the nation’s most important and consequential foreign missions. From trade to security to immigration, few ambassadors have a portfolio as full as Landau’s.
First on his to-do list is assuring Mexico’s executive and legislative branches that the apparent snail’s pace of U.S. congressional action on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, is par for the course on Capitol Hill and that the U.S. will indeed ratify the deal.
American political inertia is not always an easy sell to international audiences. Even though I am certain the agreement would pass easily were a vote held today, my friend Larry reminds me that most Mexicans in and out of government are baffled as to what’s taking so long.
Landau has taken to his new home, and Mexico has taken to him. He’s already become somewhat of a Twitter celebrity in Mexico, attracting quite the following online and at events around town and across the country.
The assembled guests at Landau’s welcoming reception were heavy hitters, including representatives of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration and members of Mexico’s Congress. The Arizona Commerce Authority’s trade representative, Natalia Perez, and José Andrés Garcia of Molera Alvarez (who have both been great connectors for Arizona businesses) were present as well.
Landau knows his stuff. He deftly handled questions about USMCA, or T-MEC, as it’s known in Mexico. Mexico passed its version of the agreement in its Senate by a wide margin (114-4). Now it’s time for the U.S. Congress to do its job, schedule the vote, and ensure the U.S.’ acceptance of an accord that will preserve the tariff-free trading system that has been central to North American prosperity for the last quarter-century.
USMCA is especially important for Arizona; Mexico is far and away the state’s largest trading partner, and the economic health of the state and our southern neighbor connects closely with that of the other. So, you can bet I used my chance of meeting the new ambassador to share with him a copy of the Arizona Chamber Foundation, Arizona Chamber of Commerce, and Arizona Mexico Commission’s policy brief that tells the story of how much Arizona has to gain by adoption of USMCA and how it will undoubtedly increase the 228,000 jobs in Arizona that are tied to trade with Mexico and Canada.
I also mentioned that many of Arizona’s leading business groups sent a letter led by the Arizona District Export Council to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling for a swift vote on USMCA. (Kudos to Carol Colombo and Mel Sanderson for spearheading the effort, which the Arizona Chamber and Arizona Manufacturers Council were pleased to support.)
In addition to trade, Ambassador Landau stressed cooperation in other areas, including migration and drug interdiction. These are bipartisan, binational issues, and despite what you might hear in some corners of the media, Mexico has committed itself to strengthening the security of its southern border.
If there were any holdouts left in the room after listening to Ambassador Landau hold court on a host of issues, he converted them to supporters after he joined Larry on stage with a mariachi band for a few songs.
Landau has a big job ahead of him, but so far, he’s making all the right moves. He’s one to watch as the USMCA inches closer to completion and as our two countries seek to deepen our ties.