(Bloomberg) -- Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will travel to Mexico this week for a series of high-level meetings, including a session with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, focused on stemming the supply of fentanyl into the US as well as building economic ties between the two countries.
“Secretary Yellen will engage Mexican government counterparts to further close cooperation on fentanyl trafficking and meet with banking leaders in Mexico to advance Treasury’s work with the private sector to curb illicit finance tied to fentanyl,” the department said Monday in a statement.
The Biden administration has amped up its fight against the deadly drug at the same time that it’s become a political attack point. Republicans have accused Biden of not doing enough to address the problem and pressured him to enforce a crackdown at the border.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate, pledged to send US special forces into Mexico to destroy fentanyl labs and disrupt cartel operations if he’s elected.
Biden’s one clear win in his meeting last month with China’s President Xi Jinping was an agreement for a law enforcement crackdown on Chinese exports of chemicals that Mexican cartels use to manufacture fentanyl.
Yellen, who’s scheduled to arrive in Mexico City Tuesday evening, will visit a government crime lab on Wednesday where she’ll deliver remarks. She’s also set to meet Victoria Rodriguez Ceja, governor of the central bank of Mexico on Wednesday, and with Obrador and her counterpart, Finance Minister Rogelio Ramirez De La O, on Thursday.
Yellen’s trip to Mexico is also part of her effort to advance the administration’s ‘friend-shoring’ push, the idea that the US should strengthen trade relationships with trusted partners to bolster global supply chains, reduce dependence on a small number of nations for critical components and shield the economy from geopolitical risks.
Mexico is especially well positioned for such opportunities given its proximity to the US and the frequent interaction companies have in both markets, a senior Treasury official told reporters.
Mexico’s Finance Ministry will push to deepen financial integration between the two countries, particularly around digital finance, seeking to build on North America’s free trade agreement, an official told Bloomberg News. They’re also hoping to strengthen supply chains and boost investment, especially in energy and infrastructure, and tackle all forms of illicit finance, the official said.
Chinese companies dominate the production of fentanyl, as well as its precursors, but Mexico has become a major transit and production point, according to a study from the Wilson Center, a non-partisan research institute.
The Treasury announced Monday it had formed a new “strike force” meant to increase coordination related to fentanyl investigations between the department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigations unit and at least four other internal groups.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid approximately 100 times more potent than morphine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, synthetic opioids are the primary driver of overdose fatalities in the US, responsible for more than 70,000 deaths in 2021.
--With assistance from Max de Haldevang.
(Adds Mexican Finance Ministry’s priorities in ninth paragraph)
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