New Zealand, Mexico, and Central America: Paul Tipping Comments on New Zealand's Relations with Mexico and on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

Article excerpt

Diplomatic relations between New Zealand and Mexico are 30 years old. The relationship's centrepiece has always been trade, and dairy products became an important facet of that process. Ties between the two countries are also enhanced by the similarity of views between the two governments on a wide range of international issues. We co-operate closely, especially through the New Agenda group on disarmament issues. The government's Latin America strategy and its efforts to achieve a Closer Economic Partnership are designed to strengthen the links still further. People-to-people contact and journalist visits have helped increase New Zealanders' awareness of Mexico and its opportunities.

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Mexico is one of the large countries of the world. Its population is just over 100 million. It had explosive population growth over the last 50 years, but that growth is now levelling out. Mexico is also a middle-income country, with a per capita income of about NZ$9000. However, income is unevenly distributed. In broad terms, about 60 million Mexicans have disposable income, and the other 40 million have only just enough to survive on. So in marketing terms it should be thought of as 60 million with about $13,000 each per year. Mexico is the only Latin American country to be a member of the OECD, sometimes called the 'rich countries' club', but it is still classified as a developing country, which illustrates rather well its 'middling' status.

Mexico is very much an industrial country, not an agricultural producer. Its agriculture accounts for only 4 per cent of its GNP, which again sets it apart from most other Latin American countries. Mexico is also an oil producer, but the relative importance of its oil production has reduced greatly as industry has developed.

Politically, Mexico has only recently become a genuine democracy. For 70 years, from about 1930 to 2000, Mexico was ruled by one party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. This party was founded in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 mainly to ensure civilian control of the army, and in particular of the generals who were still fighting for power in Mexico in the early 1920s. It was completely successful in this, which, when the military interventions in the political history of other Latin American countries in the 20th century are recalled, was no mean achievement.

Undemocratic regime

But the PRI governments were very authoritarian and were not above suppressing opposition. There are suggestions that they rigged elections on more than one occasion. The PRI was not even democratic in its own internal affairs. Each President of Mexico under the PRI personally chose his (always his of course) successor, and the election process that followed was often just a formality. There is a story that Henry Kissinger was once asked if he wanted to be President of the United States. Kissinger is supposed to have replied

   No thanks, not enough power in
   it. But I wouldn't mind being President
   of Mexico. That guy really has
   power.

All this changed in 2000 when Vicente Fox of the opposition centre-right National Action Party was elected President. Fox, now in the fourth year of his six-year term, set out to make the political system more democratic, more pluralistic, and more legitimate. He is putting a big effort into ensuring clean elections, respect for human rights, transparency in government, and a career public service. He is also pushing the campaign against corruption. Mexico today is much more modern in this sense, and more like other OECD countries. Fox has been less successful with his economic reforms, as he does not have a majority in Congress and has not so far had many of his reforms approved.

Tenth anniversary

NAFTA came into force early in 1994. It has therefore just had its tenth anniversary, which was the occasion for some analysis of its results so far. …