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Mexican author and diplomat talks about the Mexico Canada relationship

Andres Rozental, a Mexican diplomat and scholar meets with The Globe and Mail editorial board Feb. 23, 2012.

Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

Andres Rozental, a Mexican author, diplomat and Ambassador-for-life, talks to the editorial board about his country's 2012 election, and a new book on the Canada-Mexico relationship, Canada Among Nations: Canada and Mexico's Unfinished Agenda, to be published next month.

Q: Tell us about the upcoming book that you co-edited, with Alex Bugailiskis, a career diplomat with Foreign Affairs.

The book focuses on the Canada-Mexico relationship. Policy makers, politicians and journalists contributed chapters, including Globe and Mail editorial board member Marina Jimenez.

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The book is part of a long-standing effort on my part and on the part of many Mexicans who really believe in a strong, close relationship with Canada. Since North American Free Trade Agreement was signed 17 years ago, the emphasis has been more on trilateral part of the relationship than the bilateral, even though bilateral part has been important in terms of growth of our economic, political, tourism ties, notwithstanding the visa issue. There is a very strong interest in Mexico in Canada. The book looks at security co-operation, co-operating at our mutual borders with the U.S., energy co-operation, more efficient use of energy, media relations. There is unfortunately not a strong presence of journalists covering either country. The book is also meant to try to dispel a growing feeling in Mexico that Canada was moving away from interest in Mexico, more towards a bilateral relationship with the U.S. There has been a fair amount of discussion in Canada about the bilateral versus the trilateral. The book is an effort to focus on the bilateral relationship Mexico and Canada have had and could have in the future. We are close geographically and we have close trade and tourism ties.

Q: What about the upcoming election?

Yes we have a presidential and Congressional elections, and eight or nine governorships. The full campaign begins at the end of March, so now everything is in a state of hibernation though the presidential candidates are busy making 'social' appearances. The front-runner is Enrique Pena-Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and he is leading by about 20 %. He is very young, charismatic, media-savvy and married to a good-looking soap opera star. The National Action Party (PAN) candidate is Josefina Vazquez Mota, former minister of education. She is savvy, charismatic and she has brought the party's poll numbers up since her designation. She is in second place. The third candidate is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). He is our enfant terrible. He was the candidate against Pres. Calderon five years ago, and nearly beat him. He is left-of-centre, and is with the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD). He has tempered his economic views.

We haven't heard a great deal about what these candidates think regarding the major issues, starting with the anti-drug strategy initiated by Pres. Calderon, which has led to enormous violence and damage to Mexico's image. We don't know much about what they think in economic terms, how they would plan to make Mexico grow economically, or their positions on international affairs.

Q: Who will win?

The PRI likely. Will the PRI be the same old PRI we had for 71 years until 2000, or will it be a new party? I don't know the answer. Mr. Pena-Nieto has assembled a youngish group of collaborators, some of whom were in previous PRI governments, but not all.

Q: How is the Mexican economy faring?

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The economy grew by 4% last year. Over the last four years we have averaged 2 per cent growth, in part because of 2008 recession when the economy shrank by 6% due to the world-wide recession. Like Canada, we have escaped most of the effects of the global downturn. We had no problems with banks, or mortgages, but of course we are as tied to the U.S. economy as you are, so what happens there affects us directly. The last two quarters of 2011 have been good for the U.S. economy and therefore good for the Mexican economy. We export manufactured goods to the U.S. mainly, cars and products. We have tried to diversify our trading relationship with Europe, Asia, and Latin America. We have tried to join Trans Pacific Partnership, the U.S.-led initiative. Mexico thinks it makes sense for the country to be part of it. Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed that Canada would be interested in the TPP in a half-hearted way, which immediately drove New Zealand and Australia to say they don't want Canada. But Mexico is going forward with negotiations and we hope to conclude those before the end of the year.

Q: What are the regional issues?

There is no longer a single Latin America, which was a romantic French notion from the 19th century, a place where language was common, Spain, Portugal and France to some extent had colonized. Latin America does not act as a single entity. It no longer has a common relationship with the U.S.

Today you have five Latin Americas: Brazil, with its sphere of influence in South America; Venezuela-Ecuador-Bolivia axis, with left-of-centre influence; Central American region, which has established a solid structure of common market; the Caribbean, sub-divided into Spanish and English-speaking; and then you have Mexico. It is a different animal because of our geography, NAFTA and our being in North America. We have 18-20 million Mexicans living in U.S., of which half are American citizens, and about 6 million are undocumented.

Q: Why doesn't the Canada-Mexico relationship resonate more?

The fact that we have the U.S. between us is always a problem. It distorts the trade figures. It is the elephant in the middle of us. That makes it more difficult for Canada and Mexico to join forces in different ways. Canada has specific interests with the U.S. that are bilateral. We don't think our bilateral relationships need to be sacrificed for a trilateral relationship. We look at the North American sub-region as a single entity, the way many companies do. They look at us as a single market, comprised of three complementary economies. We still don't have a North American concept politically. We don't look at ourselves as North Americans, the way Europeans do. Polls show that we identify as Canadians, Mexicans and Americans -- though in Mexico we refer to Americans as North Americans. There is a cultural symbolic division.

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Q: What could Mexico and Canada do together?

We could be more competitive. Most economic studies have shown that North America could become more competitive geographically if we collaborated, especially with mobility of labour. In the U.S., Mexican labour is used, but it is underground. We are still three separate entities and I think it is going to stay that way. Canadians can go to the U.S. under Nexus program, and Mexicans can go to U.S. under frequent traveller program, but we have not put our databases together. We have not been able to negotiate a single common customs form for the three countries to move goods freely. We are not in the North American mentality. And so as a result, what we can do at the moment, is work on the bilateral relationship and strengthen the ties.

Canada is assisting Mexico with reform of law enforcement. We have huge numbers of police force at municipal and state level, but we are constructing from almost nothing a federal force. We live in a common hemisphere.

Q: What about the drug war? What has been accomplished?

My personal opinion is that the strategy was faulty. When Pres. Calderon took office and declared war on the cartels and on organized crime, he didn't realize fully the strength of the opposition and the resources they had. There was a misjudgment about how quickly such a strategy could dismantle these groups. Drugs are an important part of the issue. There are other things these criminal syndicates do. They are involved in extortion, kidnapping, prostitution, migrant smuggling. They have a varied business scheme, though drugs is the driving source because of the consumption in the U.S. we haven't been able to convince the U.S. to do more about their own internal problem of drug demand. Drugs always go through the weakest link in the chain. That has been Mexico, but now it is becoming Central America, Guatemala, Belize. As long as we have the combination of the demand and the illegality it will be ripe for criminals to get involved. We have not heard about strategy from the candidates. There is a fear in Washington that the strategy will change. Mexico has been a jumping off point for drugs into the U.S. for as long as I have been alive. We shouldn't be doing the U.S.'s dirty work in Mexico. Should the military be brought back into the barracks? It is an open question. They are not trained for this.

Q: Do Mexicans consume drugs now?

There is a growing problem with Mexican consumption as a result of traffickers paying in kind (cocaine and methamphetamines). We should be worried about our own security and not spending as much time and resources in interdicting the flow of drugs into the U.S. Why? Because the consumption in the U.S. hasn't changed, even despite the billions of dollars spent on interdiction. The human cost is too great -- 50,000 people in the last five years have died. We didn't have these levels of violence that we have today. This is a business and they will defend the business. The drug business in Mexico is worth $3-$6-billion a year, 8 % of our GDP.

Q: How independent is the judiciary?

Much more than it was 10 years ago. Legislative branch is as well. There is a real separation of powers. Congress if very independent. At the national level, the judiciary has improved. At the lower levels, still a lot of work to be done.

Q: What about the visa issue?

In the beginning the Mexicans were caught off-guard and were quite upset by this. I am hopeful that now, with the changes in refugee and immigration legislation in Canada, we can get rid of the visa requirement. In the meantime, I have been pushing to reduce the number of visas needed. Could Canada allow Mexicans who are trusted travellers in the U.S. to be exempt? This hasn't happened yet but there is no reason it shouldn't.

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