Mexico-India... Good Friends Building New Bridges

Cover Story

Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu talks to Diplomatist Editor-at-Large Alankar Srivastava, and shares her thoughts on Mexico-India and Mexico-US relationships. Excerpts...

Q. Both Mexico and India are emerging economies at a similar stage of development. Please enlighten us on the Indo-Mexican bilateral relations.

Mexico and India are two fundamental actors in the construction of democratic societies and examples of economic growth. Our position as G20 partners is proof of the weight of our countries in the world. As emerging economies, Mexico and India are also spaces where economic growth needs to be balanced with social development. Both countries have young, multi-ethnic, and diverse population. Our pursuit of their wellbeing opens a wide universe of opportunities for cooperation. Bilateral relations between Mexico and India have a kind development and, furthermore, present a wide range of possibilities for future collaboration.

Our bilateral relation has solid economic grounds. Mexico signed its first Economic Cooperation Agreement with India in 1982. Today, Mexico has become the largest Latin American investor in India, with an influx of $800 million between 2009 and 2015. There are 11 Mexican enterprises with an important expansion in India. Nearly 60 Indian companies have benefitted from Mexico’s sizeable market and investment-friendly policies. Some of the most important software and pharmaceutical companies have chosen Mexico to develop their business strategies in the region. Our trade grew 19.2 percent in the last decade. Crude oil is a major Mexican export to India, and the whole Latin American region is crucial to Indian energy security. To address those issues, we have a Mexico–India High Level Group on Trade, Investment and Economic Cooperation that will meet in Mexico City within the coming months.

With a diplomatic relationship that goes back almost 66 years now, Mexico and India have managed to establish a strong bilateral legal framework. We have agreements on all fields from culture, science and technology, and financial cooperation to renewable energies and protection of investments. Mexico and India work together in over 200 joint research projects. For example, during our last Joint Commission in 2014, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Space Cooperation. This framework will help us to jointly explore outer space and develop better communications technologies.

Our people-to-people contact is increasing as well. Even if we may seem far away, our cultures share a surprising number of commonalities. Mexico received more than 52,000 visitors from India in 2015, a 22.6 percent increase in one year. We are taking steps to further promote tourism from India. With its fast growing economy, more Indians are travelling abroad and we are glad to receive them and have them enjoy what our country has to offer. India has also received a growing number of Mexican visitors.

We have moved our bilateral relation forward by increasing contacts at the highest level. Jawaharlal Nehru visited Mexico in 1961 and former President José López Portillo was the Guest of Honour for Republic Day in 1985. Until the mid-eighties, we exchanged as many as 8 visits at the level of Head of State and Government. The latest visits - former President Felipe Calderón to India in 2007, and President Pratibha Patil to Mexico the following year.

High level talks are excellent platforms for building an increasingly sophisticated cooperation. We are working to foster more of these interactions. President Enrique Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Narendra Modi met on the sidelines of the 70th United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2015. We are keen about both leaders exchanging visits during the following months.

In sum, Mexico and India are good friends. We proudly say that, among Latin Americans, Mexico was the first to recognise India as an independent country. In the 21st century, we look forward to accomplishing much more. I visualise concrete areas of opportunities. With prominent personalities - Nobel laureate Octavio Paz and Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit as symbols of our friendship, we are eager to see the building of new bridges.

Q. What are the areas on which Mexico and India have championed each other’s stand at the world stage?

India and Mexico have championed each other’s positions on various global issues. With a shared history of international cooperation, we addressed the needs of developing countries in the G-77. Nowadays, our voting coincidence is 70 percent in the United Nations. We are taking steps to tackle climate change and to promote sustainable development, human rights, democracy, transparency and good governance.

Since February 2014, India has the status of observer of the Pacific Alliance, a successful regional integration initiative comprised of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. Created in 2011, it is the most ambitious agreement of its kind in Latin America. It is advancing progressively towards the free movement of goods, services, resources and people. Driving further growth, development and competitiveness, it became a platform of political articulation, economic and commercial integration and projection to the world, with emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region. As India undertakes closer ties with the Pacific Alliance, it will strengthen its political and economic relations with one of the most dynamic regions in the world.

Q. What are the various soft power strategies that Mexico and India are pursuing to encourage greater interaction?

We look each other with interest and astonishment. Cultural diplomacy is one of the most useful tools for connecting our countries.

Mexican gastronomy has earned its place all over the world and India is not an exception. We would like to win Indian hearts and stomachs. Authentic Mexican food is very attractive to Indians, since our meals share culinary delicacies such as chillies and spices. We even eat a sort of corn roti called tortilla. Well recognised globally, Mexican food is considered Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, and gastronomy impacts significantly 80 sectors of our economy. A Policy for the Promotion of National Gastronomy was launched in 2015. It is one of the 8 strategic sectors that this administration wants to drive forward.

Octavio Paz, Mexican Ambassador to India from 1962 to 1968 and Nobel laureate in Literature in 1990, developed a passion for India and wrote extensively about it. His book entitled In Light of India, published in 1995, focuses on poetry, music, paintings, architecture, philosophy, and the Islamic and Hindu religions. For Westerners, it might be a compulsory reading to better understand Indian complexities. We hope more jewels in Mexican literature might be discovered.

Indians also feel attracted to magnificent pre-Hispanic pyramids, just as Mexicans deeply admire heritage sites such as the Taj Mahal in Agra. Promoting tourism in the long term is a priority of the next Joint Commission.

Indian love affair with cinema is an excellent tool for boosting our image in South Asia. Mexican presence in Bollywood might be an interesting goal of cultural diplomacy. In the meantime, Mexican origin enterprise Cinepolis has already seen an opportunity becoming the largest foreign multiplex operator in India.

Yoga and Ayurveda are increasingly popular in Mexico and its region. This is a great opportunity for India to reach out to new Latin American audiences, which appreciate philosophy and spirituality. One of the 30 Cultural Centres run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is located in Mexico City.

However, the lack of understanding of contemporary realities hampers our relation as we only know insufficiently about certain romanticised aspects of the other. Therefore, one key strategy is promoting student exchanges. We have an active scholarship programme. In 2014, Mexico issued 69 visas to Indians under cooperation schemes. We point out that these exchanges facilitate young generations to get to experience first-hand and better understand the complex contemporary realities.

Q. Do you sense a change in the business environment in India since the Narendra Modi government came to power in May 2014? Where do you see Mexico’s involvement in Indian government’s highly publicised ‘Make in India’, ‘Skill India’, ‘Digital India’, and ‘Clean Ganga’ projects?

Certainly, since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, awareness of India as a modern country has increased worldwide. His international standing has been instrumental in attracting new investments to India. Business oriented policies give clear messages to potential trade and investment partners.

I see certain similarities with the recent structural reforms undertaken in Mexico. Our experience might be relevant for schemes such as ‘Make in India’. Mexico produces 50 percent of all advanced manufactures in Latin America, and we are the world’s 16th largest exporter. We attracted a huge amount of FDI - $22.8 billion in 2014.

Interestingly enough, we had a ‘Made in Mexico’ campaign, similar to nowadays India’s scheme. Ours was launched in the 1970s with the aim of transforming Mexico into a robust manufacturing hub, going from simple and assembly-based products into high tech, advanced manufacturing in various sectors. ‘Made in Mexico’ became a worldwide brand that embodied quality and a competitive manufacturing location.

Today, Mexico ranks 38th in the World Bank Doing Business index of 2016, compared to India which ranks 130th. In 2013, Mexico attracted 12.6 percent of global FDI in auto-manufacturing, and in that same period, China attracted 12.4 percent. Mexico accounts for 20 percent of the total vehicle producer in North America, and is the 7th largest producer of cars in the world. Mexico has been successful on this account, as 83 percent of the total exports of Mexico are manufactured products. Also, Mexico has developed manufacturing clusters in Queretaro for aerospace.

Regarding ‘Digital India’, Mexico has gone similarly with the launch of our National Digital Strategy in 2013. It eases access to Internet making the most of it, and also seeks digital inclusion, better informed citizens and a closer, more open and effective government. We believe in ensuring the access to technologies in order to become a free society. In the same spirit as ‘Digital India’, we are working to empower citizens in the use of the new tools required to write their own success story.

Q. What are your views on the US billionaire businessman and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, who hit headlines for calling for a wall along the border with Mexico?

The Mexican Government is fully respectful of the US electoral process. We are also aware that the primaries process is still on its way and, even though Trump is ahead in the polls, the process is far from over.

We will undoubtedly continue to defend the rights and interests of Mexican nationals abroad - especially within the United States. Every time there have been ignorant or discriminatory remarks; we have reacted in a prompt and firm manner to condemn them and to set the record straight about the important contributions of the Mexican community in the United States.

We will, therefore, continue rejecting any expression denoting racism that might endanger their dignity and integrity.

The Mexico-US relationship is deep and complex and we cannot circumscribe what defines it from the statements of one single person. Donald Trump’s declarations are unacceptable. They are divorced from reality and do not consider the contributions of the Mexican community in the US and the depth of our ties.

On the other hand, it is important to remember that rhetorical upheaval during political campaigns is natural, especially during long electoral processes, which can be very consuming in media terms, often forcing candidates to seek public attention for months.

During primaries, especially in a bipartisan system, you are addressing very targeted constituencies which call for a much more narrow scope. Candidates’ messages usually become more moderate once you get into the general election.

Once a public official possesses the ability to exercise power, the weight of reality imposes itself, and country leaders who were once candidates, realise the necessity of seeking consensus and engaging in inclusive dialogue with everyone.

Individuals serving public office understand that governing is completely different from a political campaign; leaders require an objective and serene perspective that allows them to be inclusive with the population as a whole.

Therefore, due to the nature and principles of our neighbour, we are confident that we will maintain the institutional and respectful relationship we have shared historically, despite the political party or the candidate who wins.

Q. What are the steps that the Mexican government must take to ensure that the North American region emerges as a prosperous region of inclusive growth?

Mexico is strongly committed to working with Canada and the United States in the construction of a more prosperous and competitive region.

One of the main priorities of my administration has been to strengthen and consolidate the regional and bilateral agenda Mexico has with the United States and Canada. The North American perspective is important to advance in several issues that require our joint efforts.

Greater economic integration is one of our main goals and we believe this integration can and should be achieved by increasing our regulatory cooperation, and facilitating trade between our countries through improved transportation links and efficient infrastructure. Another important aspect is to increase people mobility through a common North American Trusted Traveller Program, which will speed up the movement of tourists and business executives between our three countries. We are discussing new ideas on how to expand educational, scientific, innovation and entrepreneurship cooperation, and link training to required work skills to improve work-force development. We must ensure that the more than 470-million people living in North America have access to a better level of life.

A more prosperous North America goes hand in hand with greater global responsibility. We have been exploring areas of cooperation in the multilateral arena to act as a block on issues that are of importance for North America as a whole. We already used that approach while negotiating the TPP, and we will keep on moving in this direction.

The North American agenda is broad and ambitious. Our joint efforts have a direct impact on the lives and well-being of our people. The governments of our three countries share the vision of a more competitive, dynamic and integrated North America that can bring about a new era of prosperity for our region.

Q. Where does the Mexico-US relationship stand as of today?

The Mexico-US relationship is based on a constant and mature political dialogue. It is guided by a strategic bilateral agenda and backed up by solid institutions and mechanisms. Our shared goal is to position North America as the most competitive region in the world.

The bilateral relationship between Mexico and the United States includes billions of dollars in daily trade and investments that touch the lives of millions of Americans and Mexicans. Just last year, our bilateral trade accounted for $531 billion, making each other’s first and third trading partner, respectively. Adding up the total amount from 2012 to 2015, bilateral trade reached $1.6 trillion.

Our societies are interconnected, where the leaders of both countries have to work considering at all times the convergence we have across countless issues, such as commerce, security, energy, global health, and climate change, among others.

Our relationship is characterised by constant interactions at all levels; we have an open and constant dialogue in order to approach and address the many issues of our bilateral agenda.

Security and Immigration are key issues in the bilateral agenda and we keep working to deepen the dialogue and find points of convergence regarding these areas while also working towards setting a new architecture for our relationship that complements and adds to the traditional agenda.

This new architecture addresses in an institutionalised way our bilateral policies on education, innovation and economic development. It reflects a dynamic and mature relationship with close economic, cultural and social ties.

It has been almost three years since Presidents Enrique Peña Nieto and Barack Obama set the foundation of this new bilateral architecture. Just last week, Vice President Biden visited Mexico for the annual meeting of the High Level Economic Dialogue (HLED), one of the pillars of the new agenda. It is through HLED, the Mexico-US Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council, and the Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research, that we foster competitiveness, based upon innovation, entrepreneurship and a highly skilled workforce.

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