|México in the 21st Century|
The stereotypical image of México, particularly the steady flow of security-related stories in the international media, is not flattering. However the numbers tell a different story.
México is roughly the size of Western Europe. It is the world's 14th largest economy, producing 2.2pc of global GDP and the world's 10th largest producer of oil. Goldman Sachs and The Economist predict that México has the potential to become the 7th largest economy within the next 40 years. It has a young and urbanised population. Around 50pc of the population are under 25 and around 77pc live in urban areas.
México is a trading nation with more Free Trade Agreements than any other country (13 agreements with 44 countries including the US and the EU). Around 80pc of Mexican exports have a US destination. Nearly 1million people and $1bn in trade travel between the US and México border everyday – making it the world's busiest border.
It shares similar values to Europe and the US: political openness, free trade and a willingness to debate and act on key 21st century challenges. México is a member of the G20 and was previously a co-ordinator of the G5 major emerging economies.
Position in the world in 21st century
However México does not yet project a clear strategy for its long-term development. It remains uncertain about its role and position in the world – now and in the future. It has yet to work out whether it is serious about challenging Brazilian regional leadership, and about becoming a global power too.
It appears that within México there are still conflicting views on how much it should aspire to play a wider regional role. It has a strong history of non-interventionism in the region. But México could do so much more in light of its economic weight. It could position itself as a convening power and deal-maker in the Americas. It could also be much more demanding of other neighbouring countries in the region if it wanted to.
Relations with the US have never been better
The importance that the US attaches to its bilateral relationship with México was illustrated in President Calderón's first State Visit to Washington in May 2010. President Calderón was granted generous access to President Obama, a one-on-one meeting, a press conference and he was granted only the second State Dinner to be celebrated under the Obama Administration at the White House. As a result both President Calderón and President Obama have built a genuinely strong and productive relationship.
During the State Visit, President Calderón became the first Mexican President to lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Previously Mexican presidents had declined this request, not wanting to dwell on US military incursions into México, but President Calderón's visit to Arlington represented the 21st relationship between México and the US, in which Calderón used the opportunity to recognise the role of Mexican Americans in the US military.
The State Visit showed that México-US relations were on a good footing with the US characterising the relationship as: “The United States is proud to be México's friend, partner and neighbour...we will succeed or fail as one...”
Mexican innovations for the north
The US economy has been undergoing a massive economic structural shift over recent decades with those at the bottom feeling the pinch of stagnating wages and even more so after the 2007 financial crisis. Mexican companies, seeing an opportunity, a growing demographic of increasingly poorer people in the US, have begun to export their own emerging economy innovations. For example, MedicallHome, a Mexican company that provides medical advice over the phone for $5 a month, as well as access to its network of 6,000 doctors has expanded north of the border with great sucess. Similarly, a subsidary of Carlos Slim's América Móvil, has also been selling pre-paid mobile phones popular in México. More than 3 million phones have already been sold in the US.
So what role should México play
México appears to be punching below its weight in the region in the 21st century. Even though it has only half the population of Brazil, geographically it is the US' closest neighbour and in many ways its most like-minded “ally” in the Americas, where more countries are increasingly becoming hostile to free trade and political openness. If México is serious about becoming a major emerging regional player, it needs to begin to act like one in the eyes of the other players on the world stage.
To do this, México needs to gain momentum across bilateral and multilateral issues to win it influence with the other big players like the EU and China. If this were to happen, México would be in a position to become a strong regional player with the ability to shape the outcomes on some of the big questions of the 21st century. The key challenge is, will México and its leaders step up to the fray?