Mexico and India are similar millenary civilizations inheriting very rich ancient cultures, impacted by a colonial experience. And despite our apparent physical distance, the cultures of Mexico and India are quite similar in essence, says Melba Pria, Mexican Ambassador to India, in an exclusive interview with Elets News Network (ENN), where she gives an overview of IndiaMexico relations and talks about lessons that India can learn from Mexico to address challenges posed by environmental pollution and diversification of economy.
You have made a mark in India by using a unique official vehicle. It is a classic example of innovation in leadership, for a cause. What are your comments?
When I arrived in India, it was my desire to do things differently and to think outside of the box. My job was to promote Mexico among all Indians, and what better way to do it than using one of India’s instantly recognisable cultural icons, the autorickshaw. I consider the auto as one of the most efficient means of transport, and it is what most Indian people use for transportation, so I figured why not me–I could do it as well. It is a vehicle well-adjusted to the realities of traffic-ridden Delhi, and a great way to participate in the Indian way of life and transportation. It is also a fun way to promote Mexico and Mexican artistry. Moreover, it served the cause of spreading awareness towards environmental concerns. My auto runs on CNG which is less polluting than a regular four-wheeler vehicle, thus, reducing my carbon footprint. I am very happy my official vehicle resonated so well with the general public as well as the media.
Mexico City has successfully turned around from being one of the world’s most polluted cities. How could your country pull this feat and what can Delhi learn from your experience?
Mexico City is my hometown and I had seen it struggling with the pollution issue, when it was declared the most polluted city in the world in 1992 by the United Nations. However, since then there has been considerable progress. In 1989, at the height of the pollution crisis, the government of Mexico City established a vehicle restriction initiative known as “Hoy No Circula”. It was conceived as a temporary measure for the winter months that became permanent. It restricted the circulation of 20 percent of the vehicles, from Monday to Friday, depending on their license plate. Later, it evolved to restrict vehicles which were over eight years old and made it mandatory for all cars to pass a verification test. Mexico’s measures to improve air quality have been diverse and Mexico City has not relied on any one single programme to curb pollution.
The city complemented this policy with many others, which involved closing and moving polluting factories and industry, changing the type of gasoline to make it less polluting, and a mandate for their filters to be changed, a mandatory change of the catalytic converters of cars, encouraging use of alternative transportation, an expansion in the metro system, and other initiatives to promote and improve public transportation like Metrobus (a rapid bus transit system) and Ecobici (bicycle sharing programme) were started. We also have a good set of emergency measures in place. When the pollution levels reach a certain point, the city is prepared to further restrict cars and even cancel school classes for the day.
The various policies implemented managed to reduce pollution from 25 to 70 percent, depending on the polluting agent. In just four years, from 2008 to 2012, Mexico City recorded a 7.7m tonnes reduction in carbon emissions beating a sevent million tonnes target, and in 2013, Mexico won the C40 City Award on Air Quality. Nevertheless, the implementation of these types of programmes represents a perpetual effort for the sake of having better air quality. We continue to learn in order to cope with new challenges.
Getting the people of Delhi on board is crucial. There will always be some type of resistance to measures that make people change their habits. The World Health Organization has stated that more than seven million premature deaths are linked to air pollution. Therefore, it is important to raise awareness of the dangers of pollutants. The government will have to make the improvement of air quality a priority and make a commitment to the implemented policies, ensuring that they are kept above the political fray.
Air pollution is a complex issue that requires long term solutions and improvement will require a huge amount of commitment from its citizens. However, the efforts will be worth it because what steps we take today, may determine our quality of life in 20 years.
Last year’s general elections in Mexico were historic for many reasons. What are your thoughts on this?
On July 1, 2018, Mexico had one of its biggest and busiest elections in history, both in terms of the number of voters that went to the polls, and the amount of electoral processes that took place simultaneously. There were nine political parties in different alliances, and also independent candidates running for a number of public positions. Eighty-eight million Mexicans voted to elect a President of the Republic, 500 members of the Chamber of Deputies (lower chamber), 128 members of the Senate (upper chamber), nine state governors, 27 local assemblies, and local authorities in 25 states. For the third time, Mexicans abroad were able to vote by post.
The coalition Juntos Haremos Historia (Together We Will Make History) led by the National Regeneration Movement party, also known by its acronym MORENA, won the presidency with 53 percent of the popular vote, and won a majority in both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was sworn to office on December 1, 2018.
The fact that an opposition party won the presidency proves that the system works. Mexico has one of the best electoral authorities. The National Electoral Institute of Mexico (INE) is an autonomous, independent, and specialised public body, responsible for the State function of organising and overseeing federal elections in Mexico, in addition to collaborating with local electoral management bodies to jointly conduct local elections. INE has also the mandate to oversee campaign expenditure, and we also have a specialised prosecutor and a high court for electoral crimes.
Give us an overview of India-Mexico relations. What are the potential areas for taking the bilateral economic engagements to next level?
Mexico was the first Latin American country to recognise India’s independence in 1947, with formal diplomatic relations established in 1950. Since then, our relations have been moving steadily forward. As emerging economies, both countries have unique strategic capabilities that will allow them to take advantage of the current economic climate.
Trade with India has grown immensely in the last few years, from just over USD 6 billion in 2013 to over USD 8 billion in 2017. Mexico is an oil-producing country and India is our third largest oil buyer. India’s FDI into Mexico totalled over USD 3.5 billion between 1999 and 2017. India exports more to Mexico than to other countries like Indonesia, Australia or Spain. In 2018, Mexico emerged as the largest trading partner of India in Latin America, with a total trade of USD 8.7 billion. This is the first time that Mexico has overtaken Brazil as the largest trading partner of India in the region. Mexico is India’s largest investor from Latin-America, with an FDI into India of over USD 1.5 million between 2009 and 2018. Mexico continued to be the largest export destination of India with USD 3.83 billion, having overtaken Brazil since 2016. In 2018, India had exported more to Mexico than to its neighbours such as Iran, Myanmar or traditional partners such as Canada, Russia and Egypt. India’s vehicle exports to Mexico are more than its exports to large neighbouring markets such as Bangladesh or Indonesia. Mexico is the second largest global destination for India’s vehicle exports, with USD 1.7 billion.
India is among the top 10 trading partners of Mexico, with approximately 70 Indian companies, mainly from the automotive, pharma and IT sectors, established in Mexico. There are 12 Mexican companies operating in India in various sectors, including auto parts, entertainment, information technology, energy, processed foods and industrial products.
Potential sectors for bilateral trade and investment include IT, pharmaceuticals, mining, chemicals, auto-components, renewable energy, biotechnology, defence equipment, textiles and garments, and gems and jewellery.
We maintain a strong, active and close relationship in economic, education, scientific and technical, cultural and political terms, and we are working towards broadening and deepening our relations in multilateral affairs.
Mexico has been able to diversify its economy from largely oil based to manufacturing. What were the enablers?
Mexico’s geographic location is an important factor. It is a gateway to a potential market of one billion consumers and 60 percent of world’s GDP. We have 10 FTAs with 45 countries, 32 Reciprocal Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (RIPPAs) with 33 countries, nine trade agreements within the framework of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI). 90 percent of trade falls under FTAs. The fiscal incentives to investment are another crucial driver of manufacturing diversification.
Mexico offers unique advantages for manufacturing facilities and labour that is particular to India, specifically in high skilled technological manufacturing products. Several subsectors are driving this manufacturing growth, most notably in high-end manufacturing, such as the automotive, plastics and aerospace industries.
Mexico’s auto sector has been particularly strong, experiencing double-digit export growth every year since 2010. The plastics industry, which is valued at more than $20 billion per year, has averaged 13.4 percent growth in exports over the past five years. Meanwhile, Mexico’s small but burgeoning aerospace industry based in the central state of Queretaro has grown even faster in recent years.
What are your prospects in the renewable energy grid? How can India & Mexico work collaborate in this sector?
We live in a world that is slowly but unequivocally moving towards cleaner energies and away from fossil fuels. Mexico has a large and diverse renewable energy resource base. Given the right mix of policies, Mexico has the potential to attract large-scale investment in renewables that can help diversify its energy supply. Increased renewable energy use would also set Mexico on a pathway toward significantly reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Mexico and India complement each other in the field of energy. Earlier this year, Mexico’s Minister of Energy, Rocio Nahle Garcia participated in PETROTECH 2019, India’s flagship International Oil & Gas Conference, with the focus to promote bilateral outreach. Mexico offers investment incentives in upstream, mid-stream and downstream. There could be increased business opportunities in the renewable energy including bio fuels. Our similar geographic conditions, the abundance of sun and wind, the presence of the Tropic of Cancer works in our favour. Mexico and India are working on technology exchanges, cross-investments, etc. to collaborate in the renewable energy sector.
Please share the cultural commonalities between India and Mexico.
Both Mexico and India are similar millenary civilizations inheriting very rich ancient cultures, impacted by a colonial experience. And despite our apparent physical distance, the cultures of Mexico and India are quite similar in essence. We are both large countries, with vibrant cultures, numerous languages and ethnicities, traditions and diverse lifestyles.
Mexicans and Indians uphold similar family values. We are both warm and hospitable, and enjoy our large, noisy family gatherings. The one aspect that stands out most is our shared love of spicy food. The Indian curry is similar to the Mexican ‘mole’ – the dish based on a sauce made of chillies and strong spices, and usually eaten along with a ‘tortilla’, which is like a corn ‘roti’. Just as Indians use pulses, beans are every bit as essential to our nourishment.
As the former Mexican Ambassador to India, the great poet, Nobel-laureate Octavio Paz wrote in his book ‘In Light of India’, “I can understand what it means to be Indian, because I am Mexican”.