Chamber President and CEO Glenn Hamer just returned from a trade mission to Mexico City with a delegation of Arizona business leaders. Here are his observations.
Thanks to the usual great work of the team at Molera-Alvarez, a small contingent of Arizonans met with leaders in Mexican government, media, politics, and business on a just-completed trade mission.
It’s important to be prepared for what’s coming electorally for Arizona’s largest export market by a mile, and the most important international relationship for the U.S. – our friend and ally Mexico
AMLO in a landslide
Fresh off a trip to Mexico City, it’s clear to me that whatever “Blue Wave” is in play in the United States, it’s a splash in a bathtub compared to what will soon happen in Mexico.
On July 1, Mexicans will go to the polls in what will be the biggest election by open seats at all levels of government in the nation’s history.
In 2008 President Obama successfully ran a Hope and Change campaign. This year, Andrés Manuel López Obrador – or AMLO, as he is known in Mexico – is running on a tagline of Peace and Honesty.
While Mexico continues to grow economically, and the middle class continues to expand, AMLO is running on three issues that are real and need to be addressed: corruption, violence, and poverty.
This is a change election. The top aggregator for polls has AMLO up by 15 points and probably rising. His upstart Morena party has a reasonably good chance to capture Congress, a number of governorships, and state legislatures across the country. Take our neighbor, Sonora, for example. Last election, Morena barely registered. Now it is leading the major established parties at 30+ percent.
This is pretty consistent with what we see across the world, including the U.S., where anger at the status quo, institutions, and the establishment is rising.
AMLO and NAFTA
So what would an AMLO presidency look like?
First, there was pretty much a consensus among those we visited with that while not a champion of free markets and not to be confused with Ronald Reagan, he’s not the second coming of Castro or Chávez, either. For example, there does not seem to be fear that businesses will be targeted with new job-killing taxes and there is zero concern for more radical policies, like confiscation or the re-nationalization of major economic sectors. The majority perception of his tenure as mayor/governor of Mexico City is that AMLO coexisted with the business community without sparking major hostilities. And some necessary infrastructure projects were successfully executed during his tenure.
So far, there is no indication that the future president has a desire to exit NAFTA. All indications are that he would be fine with a thoughtful modernization of the agreement.
The “Mexican Model” on NAFTA is likely to continue, which is to work with like-minded business groups across Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, to build grassroots support for the agreement across the continent in a way that transcends elections.
Let’s just say this approach to NAFTA would be superior to the Trump administration’s, which continues to threaten – recklessly – the most lucrative trading bloc on the planet.
For Mexico, NAFTA is not just a trade agreement. It’s a state of mind.
The agreement forced many industries closed from the world – oil and telecommunications, for example – to open up. While it is likely that AMLO would put more effort into issues like raising the minimum wage and the domestic production of certain products like corn, it’s unlikely that he would stop Mexico’s best-in-the-world efforts to open up new markets abroad, particularly if the U.S. erects new barriers. (Mexico just completed foreign trade agreements with the European Union and joined the TransPacific Partnership, which the U.S. exited.)
A domestic issues election
While it’s not surprising that President Trump is very unpopular in Mexico for obvious reasons, he is not a driving force in this election.
AMLO is focused on domestic issues. His interest in international affairs is mostly centered on the treatment of migrants in the U.S. Unlike many past presidents, he does not speak English.
Given his domestic focus, and the need for resources, this next prediction was not mentioned during any of our meetings, but is my speculation that there will be a major effort from AMLO to foster a closer relationship with China, and for China to go all-in on Mexico with heavy foreign direct investment after the election. (This amounts to reason one million and one for updating and not blowing up NAFTA; China doesn’t need any more help increasing its presence in this hemisphere.).
It’s not all rosy. There was widespread belief that he is making too many campaign promises that will be somewhere between extremely difficult to impossible to achieve.
There’s also a sense that while he has a solid team of advisers, he can – and does – go off script, something we in the U.S. can relate to.
The current administration has successfully pushed through a number of key constitutional reforms in areas such as energy, education, and financial services. The reform most likely to be overturned or severely challenged is the education reform, with some likely attempted prospective changes to the landmark energy reform.
Show our friend and neighbor the respect they deserve
President Trump’s consistent Twitter attacks or insults directed at Mexico have taken a toll. The leaders and people of Mexico want and need the US to do well economically. The prosperity and stability that the U.S. has enjoyed is aspirational. But, the image of the U.S. has deteriorated. Most U.S. brands, which are increasingly prevalent in Mexico (Starbucks outlets, for example, are ubiquitous in Mexico City), have been able to adjust and limit the change in public perception, but only with some savvy crisis communications help — not the best situation to be in in a key market.
Mexico is a friend and ally of the United States. For the commercial, security, and moral health of America, it’s critical that Mexico be treated as such.