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Mexico is poised to be Utah’s trade partner of the future

If exports to Mexico will continue to strengthen Utah’s economy, the same relationship might point the way to greater prosperity for Mexico as well.

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Vincente Fox, former president of Mexico, talks about investing in the future of the United States and Mexico during his speech at Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

We seldom stand face to face with history, yet two years ago, on Feb. 12, 2019, I approached one of the pioneers of democracy and free trade the Americas: former Mexican President Vicente Fox (r. 2000-2006). Fox, previously governor of the Mexican state of Guanajuato and president of Coca Cola Mexico prior to his presidency, walked casually around a glittering ballroom at the Little America Hotel. I told him that I watched him participate in a presidential debate in Mexico City in 2000, at which point I knew he would be the first president elected in Mexico from outside of the ruling Institutional Party (PRI) in 70 years.  

Reaganesque in stature, he obliged my request for a photograph before addressing a rapt audience. He extolled the virtues of education and self-reliance, as well as pinned years of lost opportunities for economic and political development in Latin America on authoritarian regimes.  

Fox’s 2019 visit was his second to Salt Lake City and reflected growing economic ties between his nation and Utah. Now, Utah trade with Mexico tops $4 billion annually, placing it ahead of U.S. trade with Uruguay, according to Mexico’s foreign delegation in Washington D.C. These numbers should increase in 2021 with the Utah World Trade Center and the Governor’s Office primed to capitalize on the relationship.  

Mexico’s economy and society have undergone significant changes since Fox left office, though the emphasis on open trade and economic development headlined the presidencies of his two successors, Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) and Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018).  

Indicators from the United Nations’ Human Development Indicators reflect a robust Mexican economy and improved quality of life. Our neighbor to the south boasts a per capita GDP in excess of $19,000, per year, with slightly above 6% of Mexicans still living in poverty. While violence remains a pressing security concern, average educational attainment equivalent to the level of an associate’s degree (14.8 years).  

While U.S. foreign policy in Latin America has lacked direction during the 21st century, Mexico has taken advantage of existing ties with the United States and Canada, contributing to an increase in trade between the three countries from approximately $350 billion in trade annually in 1994 to in excess of $1.3 trillion in 2018, according to Richard Haas, director of the American Council on Foreign Relations in his recent book, “The World: An Introduction”.  

In addition, Mexico joined the Pacific Alliance in 2011, a trade and policy pact between Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru, focused not only on increasing inter-American trade (the four countries account for 35% of Latin America’s GDP), but also turning outwards towards Asia, an opportunity lost on the United States during the past four years with the Trump administration’s rejection of the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement.   

This trade alliance signaled Mexico’s commitment to open trade, while at the same time Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia and Argentina struggled to turn the tide against political volatility and economic deterioration, the product mainly of state-centered spending initiatives that stifled innovation.  

If exports to Mexico will continue to strengthen Utah’s economy, the same relationship might point the way to greater prosperity for Mexico as well. Mexico City and Salt Lake City, both with encouragement from Delta Airlines, spent the better part of the 2010s working towards state-of-the-art transportation infrastructure, epitomized by new airports to match growing demand. While the Salt Lake airport reopened to wide praise last year, the Mexico City counterpart was scrapped, a development that prevented the high-plateaued metropolis from establishing itself as a premier node of connectivity in the Americas. Utah not only has goods to trade with Mexico, but frameworks for accentuating the advantages of improved infrastructure and increased competitiveness in regional and global markets.   

Utahns would do well to consider forging stronger ties with Mexico, both on a person-to-person basis as well as through economic opportunities. Mexico is rising — in part because of its relationships with the United States, generally, and Utah, particularly, and this year promises to enhance those ties from the governor’s office on down.  

Evan Ward is associate professor of History at Brigham Young University, where he teaches courses on world history. His views are his own.