A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to be in Washington D.C. to talk with some members of the New America Foundation, a prestigious think tank, in a dialogue with its director Anne-Marie Slaughter.
The conversation centered on my outlook for present-day Mexico and our bilateral relations with the United States. In this close relationship we find key points that should be emphasized with regard to the changes that we have experienced on both sides of the border since the North American Free Trade Agreement entered into effect, 20 years ago.
Unfortunately the foreign press is plagued with perceptions that make us look like a country on the brink of chaos and this is far from the reality, even though in some regions of Mexico the security situation is unfortunately not improving.
Mexico is much more than the temporary problems that plague it. We have enthusiastic, creative, hardworking people who every day strives to get ahead. We also have companies with a growing global presence and of course a vast and thousand year old culture that is recognized and admired throughout the world.
The process of negotiation and the entering into effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was the beginning of a new stage for our economy, in which Mexico went from being a closed to an open economy. The opening of the economy has been positive, although gradual, and in some cases has not been completed.
Mexico's most important accomplishment was initiating the consolidation of a middle class, a process that has also not concluded. It should not surprise us that the democratic transformation in Mexico has also been a result of this opening of the economy.
Mexico was a very different country before 1994, with an economy that was unable to enter the modern age. For decades, inadequate economic management led to the destruction of wealth, lack of savings, opportunism, expropriations, and improvisation, while the private sector suffered the effects of a monetary and foreign exchange policy marked by irresponsibility. The consequence of this "failed economy" was a constant state of crisis, unemployment, public debt, and poverty.
Today NAFTA facilitates commercial trade to the tune of more than 400 billion dollars in goods, 35 billion dollars in services, and more than 100 billion dollars in foreign direct investment on both sides of the border.
Mexico is currently the second largest market for U.S. exports and is its third largest trading partner. Thanks to bilateral trade, six million jobs have been generated in the United States; that is, one of every 24 workers in the United States depends on trade with Mexico.
In Mexico, during the past 20 years more than 10 million people have pulled themselves out of poverty. The transformation of the Mexican economy today places our country as a manufacturing power and an attractive place to invest in.
In conclusion, NAFTA has made us more competitive. Indeed, North America is a strategic trading bloc on a global level. It is clear that our economies are complementary, which forces us to ponder the future of the relationship between the two countries, in which a key factor is human capital.
Mexico, I repeat, is undergoing major changes. Recently different constitutional reforms were approved, aimed at boosting the country's competitiveness in key sectors with a view toward the future. For example, the monopolistic structure of the energy sector, which we are trying to fight against, translates into higher prices and lower quality products for consumers and companies.
The reforms in energy and telecommunications are not only important but essential for the economic prosperity of Mexico. At the same level, we have to consider improving the educational system.
Mexico is in a privileged position and shares one of the most dynamic borders in the world. Greater bilateral integration is needed, which involves challenges and coordination on both sides of the border. By the same token, ties with Latin American countries through the Pacific Alliance are extremely important for Mexico’s international economic projection.
In twenty years we have taken a giant leap forward and today we can say that our country has companies with a global presence. But in the next two decades we will have the opportunity to undertake an even deeper and more positive transformation. In fact, it is our responsibility to do so.