Mexico's president to meet with Trump amid populist pressure at home

IXMIQUILPAN, MEXICO (Reuters) - Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and U.S. President Donald Trump will meet at the end of this month to discuss trade, immigration and security issues, as the Latin American leader faces increased populist pressure at home.

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto speaks to the audience during a meeting with members of the Diplomatic Corps in Mexico City, Mexico January 11, 2017. Picture taken on January 11, 2017 REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer told a news conference on Saturday that the two leaders will meet on Jan. 31, the week after senior officials of both administrations hold bilateral talks in Washington.

Trump is committed to renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and would move to withdraw if no “fair deal” is forthcoming, according to the White House website.

Pena Nieto, whose popularity has plummeted due to corruption scandals and rising inflation, has been criticized for lacking a clear strategy to counter Trump’s threats to crimp trade and deport illegal immigrants.

Seeking to capitalize on that discontent, Mexican 2018 presidential forerunner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Saturday said he would tour major U.S. cities starting in February.

“Enough of being passive,” Lopez Obrador of the leftist Moreno party said in a statement. “We should put a national emergency plan in place to face the damage and reverse the protectionist policies of Donald Trump.”

Lopez Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor mounting his third presidential bid, said at a rally in the border city of Ciudad Acuna that he would “stop the hate promoted by propaganda against migrants.”

Many in Mexico are worried about another Trump promise, that he will make Mexico pay for a border wall, possibly by blocking wire transfers out of the United States from Mexican nationals.

“We shouldn’t pay for the wall,” said Christina Validez, waiting to pick up a wire transfer from her husband in the United States at a bank in Ixmiquilpan.

“It’s the other way around, all United States presidents should be grateful that all the migrants have helped the economy.”

The area around Ixmiquilpan, in the central state of Hidalgo and home to some 94,000 people, received about $100 million in foreign remittances in 2015, according to data from Mexico’s central bank, more than 10 times the municipal government’s annual budget.

Validez said she depends on the money sent back to make ends meet and she complained about “everything” becoming more expensive after the government hiked regular gasoline prices by 14 percent at the start of the year.

Looting and violent protests followed the gasoline hike around the country. Two people died in Ixmiquilpan in clashes with state and federal police after protesters blockaded a highway and burnt vehicles.

On Saturday, Mexicans, many with relatives in the United States, queued for hours outside a bank located in an appliance store in Ixmiquilpan’s town center.

The store had cut back hours, opening only briefly, to process wire transfers and payments after protesters angry about the gasoline hike forced the closure of stores owned by big corporations, demanding support of local businesses.

Stores in the town owned by Wal-Mart and convenience store operator Femsa were forced to close and were still shuttered two weeks later.

On Friday, people gathered outside a Ford Motor Co showroom in the capital to protest the company’s cancellation of a $1.6 billion investment in an auto plant in Mexico after months of pressure from Trump.

During his U.S. tour, Lopez Obrador, who finished second to Pena Nieto in the 2012 presidential vote, plans to meet people of Mexican origin living in major cities, starting Feb. 12 in Los Angeles, then to Chicago, Phoenix and others.

Pena Nieto said earlier on Saturday that he highlighted the importance of the U.S.-Mexico relationship on a call with Trump.

“We don’t know if the government is defending us, if it’s with us or not,” said Margarita Escamilla, a legal resident in the United States from Ixmiquilpan visiting family.

Lopez Obrador “is like all of them, saying he’s going to defend migrants but who knows ... they promise and promise and it stays the same,” she said.

Writing by Christine Murray and Michael O’Boyle, editing by Cynthia Osterman and Simon Cameron-Moore