Together with the United States, Peña Nieto and his top advisers say, Mexico wants to drill more oil, assemble more cars and build “better, faster, smarter bridges” to increase the $1 billion-a-day commerce across the 2,000-mile border, the busiest crossing in the world.
Peña Nieto, who takes office Saturday, and his team say they are ready to help the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress implement a guest-worker program to regulate the flow of Mexican labor to the United States, where an estimated 6 million Mexicans live illegally.
But his top aides said Peña Nieto hoped to create an economy that is competitive enough to keep more Mexican workers at home.
“Some people joke that the fence should actually be higher, because, seriously, we are going to need all the workers we can get if the economy is growing at 5 or 6 percent,” said Emilio Lozoya, a former manager of a billion-dollar investment fund in New York who will head Mexico’s national oil company.
After meeting with Peña Nieto in Washington on Tuesday, President Obama called the plans “very ambitious” and promised that the bilateral relationship would grow.
A lifelong politician, Peña Nieto, 46, has pledged to lift 15 million Mexicans out of poverty, essentially reducing the ranks of the country’s poor by a third.
He promised that half of all college-age Mexicans would be enrolled in higher education, up from less than 30 percent today, one of the lowest figures among developed Latin American countries.
And Peña Nieto said he would cut the murder rate by 50 percent during his six-year term, in a country where more than 100,000 homicides have occurred in the past six years.
Peña Nieto won a bruising election with only 38 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
Many Mexicans remain suspicious that Peña Nieto’s fresh face masks the darker ambitions of his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico between 1929 and 2000 with a mix of corruption, vote-rigging, crony capitalism and coercion.
“Enrique Peña Nieto and his team are an enigma. No one knows what he really stands for,” said political analyst Sergio Aguayo.
But Peña Nieto says past is not prologue. He has surrounded himself with a coterie of bright, ambitious aides educated at top universities, including MIT, Harvard and Oxford, and who are successful in business, government and academia.
On Friday, he named his cabinet, pulling in close allies to run his finance and interior ministries. He also reached across the aisle, making a former leftist mayor of Mexico City his new minister for social development and naming a top member of the opposition party as his foreign secretary.