Category Archives: Trade

Aztec tiger begins to sharpen its claws

The Financial Times published an interesting article on Mexico’s economic environment. It highlights the prudent fiscal and monetary policies that the country has implemented recently, creating a sound macroeconomic environment.

Furthermore, the journalist underlines the structural reforms that President Peña Nieto was able to promote, as a result of the pact established with the main political forces of the country. Mexico is in the track of industrialisation, but still has a long way to go. Peña Nieto’s government needs to capitalize the momentum and continue further with other important reforms, such as the energy sector and tax schemes.

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Filed under Foreign investment, Macroeconomics, Mexico, News brief, Trade, Uncategorized

‘RELAUNCHING’ CHINA-MEXICO RELATIONS: President Xi Jinping visit to Mexico

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Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Mexico, as part of his first trip to the Americas. Earlier this year, during a trip to China to participate in the Boao Forum for Asia, President Peña Nieto extended an invitation to the Chinese President to visit Mexico. China and Mexico established diplomatic relations in 1972, but bilateral contacts are much older than that. In the XVIth Century, during the Spanish colony ships sailed the Pacific loaded with precious metals, cacao grains, avocados, tomatoes and other articles from the Americas that were exchanged for Asian spices, Chinese tea, porcelain and fabrics, especially silk.

For most of the last 40 years, the relations between the countries were quite cordial, during the last ten years. However, diplomatic mishaps and a policy that sought to bring Mexico closer to the US, during the Fox and Calderon administrations, provoked the Mexican neglect of strategic partners in other parts of the world, and in particular in Asia. Despite regular high-level encounters in international fora, such as APEC or G20, and the signing of cooperation agreements in numerous sectors, trade rivalry overshadowed  Sino-Mexican bilateral relations.

Unlike the rest of Latin-America, the economic relationship with Mexico has not been based on Chinese investment to ensure the flow of raw materials to fuel China’s industry. In fact, cheap Chinese labour made Mexico and China direct competitors in the US market;  in some cases, Chinese manufactures displaced national production in the Mexican domestic market. Furthermore, the bilateral trade deficit is heavily favorable to China; in 2012 Chinese exports to Mexico accounted for USD$57 billion, while Mexican exports to China were USD$5.7  billion (according to the Mexican Ministry of Trade, www.economia.gob.mx).

The occasion to relaunch the bilateral relationship could not be better. Each President has recently taken office and both countries seek to reaffirm their positions as global actors. On the domestic side, President Peña Nieto’s administration started a series of structural reforms to increase economic productivity, while China seeks to maintain its economic momentum. The increase of Chinese wages and international oil prices has narrowed down the productivity gap between Chinese and Mexican products. China’s products are not as cheap as they used to, in some cases, it is cheaper and certainly quicker to import from Mexico than from China for US companies. These elements helped Mexico to leave aside fears and realise the economic potential of complementing, rather than competing with, Chinese partners.

With the aims to enhance mutual trust, expand cooperation and deepen friendship, Peña Nieto and Xi Jinping announced the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. This agreement aims to push for comprehensive, in-depth and mutual cooperation between the two countries and to make positive contributions to world peace, stability and prosperity. A permanent bilateral commission and working groups will follow the commitments established in the Partnership by the leaders.

Likewise, the two Presidents agreed to move forward, solving the long standing conflicts on pork, tequila and textiles trade. They committed to increase trade and investment and established a high-level business forum. Mexico and China also signed memoranda of understanding to improve cooperation in energy, biotechnology, mining, financial services and sport.

Additionally, President Peña Nieto and President Xi Jinping will encourage deeper people-to-people links. To start, the Chinese government will increase the number of scholarships offered to Mexican students from 40 to 300 per year. To increase cultural and academic exchanges, a Mexican cultural centre in Beijing and a centre specialising on Chinese studies in the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) will be opened. Finally, as symbol of the two countries’ endeavours to boost tourism flows, during the last day of the visit, President Xi Jinping and his wife visited the archaeological site of Chichen-Itza.

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Some specialists point out that the Chinese visit to Latin America is a sign to the US. China is pointing out that it has interests in other parts of the world, and is not afraid to contest US hegemony, even in the its back yard. Similarly, the US could interpret the visit as a payback for the recent increase in US engagement in Asia, China’s back yard. In any case, this is a perfect environment for Mexico’s diversification, since it could help to break the Mexican trade dependency on the US and to reaffirm itself as a key global player.

As said by President Xi Jiping in his address to the Mexican Senate*, China has a population of 1,300 million, is the second largest importer, expects to invest overseas more than USD$500, and more than 400 million of Chinese tourists will travel around the world in the next few years. This is an incredible opportunity for countries in Latin America, and of course for Mexico. The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership has opened the path for a promising future for Sino-Mexican relations.

 Mexico cannot waste this opportunity…


* I do encourage you to read President Xi Jinping’s speech to the Mexican Senate.

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Filed under BRICS, Development, Foreign investment, Mexico, News brief, Trade, Uncategorized

Two OpEds on Brazil-China with Australian implications

ANCLAS Senior Associate Dr Sean Burges has had two OpEds published this week dealing with Brazil-China relations and ideas for balancing the relationship through cooperation with Australia and Canada. The English-language version, structured around some of the challenges that could arise from Australia’s focus on Asia was published on December 5th in The Australian. A separate piece addressing how Brazil might get past its current challenges with China was published in the major Brazilian daily O Estado de São Paulothe English language text is appended below.

 

A new approach needed for China
Sean W Burges
Senior Associate, Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies at the Australian National University
Like many other countries, Brazil is struggling with the relentless onslaught of Chinese exports. The Brazil-China Business Council convened its fourth annual conference in São Paulo to try and address this challenge. Some interesting stories were told, but not much new thinking was displayed. More worryingly, there appeared to be little recognition of the subtle warnings that China is maneuvering Brazil into position as a subordinate, vassal state.

China’s ambassador to Brazil, Li Jinzhang, used a mix of oblique messaging and ancient imperial strategies to quietly underline relative power positions and the limits on Brazilian aspirations for the bilateral relationship. Jinzhang deliberately spoke in Mandarin, not the Portuguese that we might expect from an ambassador to an important global player such as Brazil. To be generous, it is possible that his Portuguese, a language reportedly difficult for the Chinese, was not up to a major public address. But if this was so, why not use a common second language such as English, the international language of business and diplomacy? His message was clear: you must come to us and adapt to our ways and priorities.

Quiet reminders that China dominates the bilateral relationship were accompanied by a subtle warning to Brazilian industrialists complaining about Chinese imports and calling on Brasília to engage in further protectionist measures. Jinzhang told the story of a small Chinese village that, like Brazil, was a predominantly agrarian community. Through hard work and innovation this village transformed itself into an industrial powerhouse and now contributes just over two percent of China’s exports from a tiny geographical footprint. While gently delivered, the lesson for the gathered Brazilian business leaders was very simple: we are not going to slow the pace of exports and it is up to you to innovate and compete with us. More chillingly for Brazil’s leading agro-industrial business sector, Jinzhang also noted that a central policy goal of the new administration in Beijing is food security with an ultimate aim of self-sufficiency.

An implicit aspect of CEBC President Ambassador Sergio Amaral’s closing address was a riposte to China’s challenge. Unfortunately, Amaral’s idea of reinvigorating Latin American integration ventures to create a larger internal market and a common set of high tariffs to exclude Chinese products is an old idea that has failed. Moreover, the idea is delusional, completely ignoring that Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico have banded together to form the Pacific Alliance precisely with the idea of looking West to China’s Asia and not East to Brazil.

Interestingly, Jinzhang’s story about a Chinese agrarian town transformed by innovation points to a path forward for Brazil, one that would involve a very different direction for Brazilian foreign policy and major, but ultimately productive shifts in thinking by Brazilian business. There are two concrete avenues for action.

First, Brazil must increase its rate of innovation. The Ciência Sem Fronteiras program will help, but it is not enough on its own. Lessons from the Chinese experience should be added to the mix. Industrialization in China was built upon successive waves of FDI, which brought new technology and processes – Chinese firms engaged in an extensive process of international collaboration to drive innovation. Thanks to Ciência Sem Fronteiras Brazilian universities are already beginning to experience this through active engagement by universities in the US, UK, Canada, Europe and even my own home institution, the Australian National University. Business should follow and actively seek dynamic partners with whom new markets, products and processes can be explored and developed. The Brazilian Government could actively assist with creative programming at institutions such as the BNDES or new financing lines through the Banco do Brasil or Caixa Economica.

Second, Brazil needs a new approach to managing China. One option that will not work is the middle power route Australia and Canada have long-used to manage bilateral relations with the US. The commonality of interests is simply not in place to make this viable with BRIC-member China. Instead, attention should be given to a sophisticated ‘balancing’ strategy involving a partnership with Australia and Canada. Why these two countries? Both are relatively small and actively courting Brazil, which makes them manageable. More importantly for the impact on Chinese perceptions, they are the two other major mineral and food exporters to China.

With Australia, Brazil and Canada – a new ABC group of countries – engaging China independently Beijing is able to engage in a divide and conquer strategy. The end result is that Chinese tariffs let in raw materials cheaply, but price value-added products out of the market. This leaves the ABC countries as breadbaskets for Chinese consumers. Collective action might be an avenue for reversing this process and forcing concessions from Beijing.
China is undoubtedly going to one of Brazil’s main economic partners for the rest of this century. The danger is that relying on tired integration models and an excessively autonomist approach to engaging Beijing will quickly shunt Brazil back into a peripheral position as little more than China’s pantry.

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Filed under Brazil, Foreign investment, Foreign Policy / Diplomacy, Trade

Argentina in another trade spat, now with Mexico

The trade policies put in place by the Kirchner government in Argentina have ruffled quite a few feathers. Earlier in 2012 ongoing tit-for-tat trade squabbles with Brazil caused former Brazilian Ambassador Rubens Barbosa to break with his long tradition of supportive comments on Mercosur to quip that Argentina’s behaviour could well kill the bloc. With bald trade restrictions ruled out by Mercosur regulations, both Argentina and Brazil degenerated into a hyper-orthodox approach to border inspections and adjudications on import licenses that were all but guaranteed to take the maximum period permissible. This barking definitely had bite, with some firms such as potato chip maker McCains choosing to simply close their export-directed plants rather than deal with the sustained disruptions.

Mexico has now jumped into the fray, taking Argentina to the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body on the charge that the Kirchner government’s measures applied to the importation of goods “restrict the imports of goods and discriminate between national and imported goods” and “don’t seem to be related with the implementation of any measure justified under the WTO Agreement”.

This now brings to four the countries questioning Argentina’s current import policies. Mexico joins the EU, USA and Japan with measures before the WTO DSB. Brazil is making its own noises bilaterally.

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Filed under Argentina, Mexico, News brief, Trade

Prizes and prices for Venezuela’s entry into Mercosur

As expected, Venezuela was formally admitted to the South American trade bloc Mercosur yesterday despite concerns from Paraguay, which is politically suspended from the bloc on charges of being anti-democratic. Indeed, Paraguay is thinking challenging Venezuela’s entry through a judicial review of the decision using the Mercosur institutional frameworks and may (being very optimistic here) get the newest member kicked out. Don’t hold your breath.

It does look like Chávez is moving quickly to settle his debts with Dilma over his admission to Mercosur. He arrived (fashionably late) in Brasíila for the summit meeting with signed contracts in hand. What was the initial payment on his account? Six Embraer 190 aircraft priced at US$271.2 million, with an option to buy 14 more for a total cost of US$904 million. One of the interesting sidelines to this deal will be the US reaction, who may be able to block the purchase through its control of licensing on key parts of the aircraft systems such as navigation aids. This is precisely what the US did when it blocked the sale to Venezuela of 24 Super Tucano prop fighters in 2006.

More to the point, Brazil is getting set to move quickly to take advantage of this new market. Buried at the end of a story on Brazil’s industrial policy is the strong hint from Minister for Development, Industry and Foreign Trade Fernando Pimentel that an August mission to Venezuela is in the works to explore the new opportunities opened by Mercosur’s enlargement.

Speaking of enlargement, the Brazilian foreign ministry Itamaraty noted that Venezuela’s entry might prompt other observer countries to think about becoming full members, which would fulfill ambitions from as far back as the 1980s to create some kind of a viable South American trade bloc centered on Brazil. In all likelihood Itamaraty planners were thinking of Bolivia and Ecuador as the next entrants, but it is interesting to note that the other observer members are Chile, Colombia, Mexico and, the surprise, apparently New Zealand.

Finally, the prize for neatly working a trenchant editorial line into upstanding newspaper journalism goes to O Estado de São Paulo. A major story on Venezuela’s joining of Mercosur started with the line: “Quatro presidentes anunciaram nesta terça-feira, 31, em Brasília que o Mercosul agora tem cinco integrantes,” which translates to “This Wednesday the 31st in Brasília four presidents will announce that Mercosur now has five members.” Never has Paraguay had such a loud voice in Mercosur deliberations.

–Sean Burges

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Filed under Analysis, Brazil, Ecuador, Foreign Policy / Diplomacy, MERCOSUR, News brief, Paraguay, Trade

Brazil Exports to Africa up 5% in first half of 2012

The Brazilian newspaper O Globo is noting that Brazilian exports to Africa are up 5% in the first half of 2012 to reach R$5.532 billion (about AUD$2.6 billion). Carlos Abijaodi, director of operations for the Brazilian National Confederation of Industry (CNI), is quoted as saying “We have important competitive advantages [in Africa], principally in the countries that speak Portuguese. Our government has gotten closer to the continent, created partnerships. Our climate and soils are very similar, our products are already tropicalized, and thus ideal for Africa.”

The numbers are not anything like as impressive as those seen in trade flows to China, Europe, South America or the US, but do point to some success from getting in at the ground level and engaging in patient market-opening work.

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Filed under Africa, Brazil, News brief, Trade

Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur: Implications for Australian trade policy

ANCLAS Senior Associate Sean Burges has just had a short analytical article published by the site The Conversation looking at what impact Paraguay’s presidential disruptions might have on Australian trade policy in the region. His conclusions are that there could be problems:

“Brazil’s enormous internal market and large economy is the real prize for Australian trade policy, with Uruguay being a pleasant addition. The catch is that any trade agreement with Brazil or Uruguay would have to come through a deal with the entirety of Mercosur. Venezuela’s full membership in Mercosur makes a deal with Australia as likely as a 2014 repeat of Uruguay’s 1950 World Cup defeat of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium.”

The full article, entitled “Paraguay’s ‘coup’ puts a dent in Australian-South American trade dreams” can be seen here.

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Filed under Brazil, Democracy, MERCOSUR, Trade, Uruguay, Venezuela