Former U.S. Ambassador Antonio Garza: Mexico's New Course
Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Discusses Challenges, Opportunities in Bilateral Relationship
AUSTIN, TEXAS / MEXICO CITY, MEXICO (Dec. 10, 2012)--On December 1 Enrique Peña Nieto took the oath of office and began his six-year term as President of Mexico. He immediately directed his cabinet—which skews toward economic and technocratic know-how— to get to work, announcing a sweeping 13-point plan for immediate enactment. The next day, he joined leaders of the two main opposition parties for the signing of a Pact for Mexico, a plan to promote Mexico’s development.
These and other decisive moves are generating excitement for the country. Whereas one week ago there were undercurrents of optimism, there’s now talk of the need to manage expectations.
Mexico has changed profoundly in the twelve years since Peña Nieto’s party last held the presidency. The PRI, which ran the country for seventy uninterrupted years, has inherited a nation that is on the rise.
Consider Mexico’s economy. After concerted effort, it now ranks among the world’s most open and competitive. Trade makes up a bigger portion of Mexico’s GDP (63%) than of any other large country’s, including the US and China. And the country is steadily attracting global investors, rivaling Brazil and China as a location for foreign investment.
Mexico’s vibrant manufacturing sector—factory-made goods comprise the bulk of the country’s trade—helps fuel economic and job growth in the U.S., particularly along the border. And imports from Mexico have a much larger percentage content that is “Made in America” (40%) than do imports from other countries—4% for China, 3% for Brazil, or 2% for India.
Peña Nieto is looking to propel Mexico’s rise. Toward that end, he has pledged to pursue economic reforms, implement anti-corruption and transparency initiatives, and shift the country’s security focus toward violence reduction rather than drug interdiction.
In the days before his swearing in, Peña Nieto fulfilled a long-standing tradition and traveled to the US to meet with President Obama. Though the meeting was substantively light, it was symbolically weighty in its reaffirmation of the close relationship between the two countries.
That relationship has never been meatier. Economic and trade ties are deepening while engagement on issues relating to the common border and security are intensifying. With Mexico taking a more active role in promoting cooperation on global issues and seeking to assert its leadership on the world stage, the bilateral relationship is evolving.
As he charts a new course for the country, President Peña Nieto also must work to move Main Street U.S. perceptions of Mexico closer to where the views of macroeconomists, investors, and discerning travelers currently are. It won’t be easy. The gap between Americans’ views of Mexico and the country’s reality is alarming. As the respected British magazine The Economist recently said: “many of the things that the world thinks it knows about Mexico are no longer true.”
In the days since he took office, Peña Nieto has begun working to reposition Mexico and move outdated perceptions closer to real world realities. President Obama, as he prepares to begin his second term, would do well recognize and embrace what many are calling “Mexico’s moment” as an opportunity for a fresh start with its neighbor and a deeper, more strategic partnership.
It helps that several long-standing issues on the bilateral agenda look like they will soon be addressed, including reform of U.S. immigration policies, a reform of Mexico’s energy sector, and efforts to expand the trade partnership through the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP). None of these will be easy, but each would help alter perceptions and move the U.S.-Mexico relationship in a more strategic direction. Achieving that will take lots of work and real leadership. -- Antonio Garza, U.S. Ambassador (Ret.)
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Media Contact for Ambassador Antonio Garza (Ret.): Jennifer Waisath Harris, (512) 773-7168 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Antonio Garza is a former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico (2002-2009). He is Counsel in the Mexico City office of White & Case and is Chairman of Vianovo Ventures, a cross-border business development and consultancy headquartered in Austin, Texas. Ambassador Garza is online at www.tonygarza.com, on Facebook.com/AntonioOGarza and on Twitter @aogarza.