using a hermeneutic strategic relational approach, this article examines the elements of the material and ideational international context directly relevant to development in mexico. it opens with a section on relations between the united states and mexico. the myriad of complex and multifaceted interactions, history and potentialities has been -and will remain- of utmost importance for both countries. the next part focuses on the north american free trade agreement (nafta) which, evaluated under its own terms, has unquestionably been successful. trade and investment have increased, and the ad hoc dispute settlement mechanism operated regularly in cases presented by each member. yet, there are immense numbers of things that nafta cannot accommodate, as it has been narrowly conceived only as a trade agreement, albeit an expanded one. these omissions are of key relevance and must be spotlighted along with the agreement's relative successes for a serious, informed discussion to take place about the prospects of deepening nafta. likewise, the negotiations for the free trade area of the americas (ftaa) would mean broadening its scope and membership. these are some of the key issues in the strategically selective context for the social processes of change in mexico in the last few decades. crucial challenges also lie ahead. if room for manoeuvre has existed in the past, there is a good chance that it will be greater in the future.