China and Mexico: The Two Amigos? Part II

China lawyerIn my last post, I discussed China’s efforts to build stronger economic ties with Mexico – and why Mexico should be clear-eyed about China’s motives. In this post, I will take a closer look at the current economic relationship between Mexico and China.

If you look at the numerous agreements between Mexico and China and all the announcements of impending business deals, you would think that China and Mexico have become major trading partners. In 2009, the two countries signed a bilateral investment treaty. In 2013, the two countries signed an Integral Strategic Partnership, and have since signed several ancillary agreements covering matters from consular protection and judicial assistance to securing access to the Chinese market for Mexican food products like avocado, pork, corn, and tequila. Meanwhile, China has been quite upfront about its broader regional strategy in Latin America to be a true economic partner for all countries.

But the numbers tell a different story. As of 2015, Mexico was running a trade deficit with China of more than $65 billion. From 1980 through 2016, the sum total of all Chinese investment in Mexico was $421.6 million – less than 0.1% of all FDI. Here’s a telling example: in 2014, the state-owned Mexican oil company PEMEX and three Chinese state-owned enterprise made a big splash by announcing a $5 billion Sino-Mex Energy Fund. To date, the fund has not announced an investment in a single project.

Two projects announced last year suggest the tide may be turning: the China Offshore Oil Corporation (a division of CNOOC) won two high-profile bids to extract oil from the Gulf of Mexico, and Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation, which already had a truck assembly plant in Veracruz, announced plans to increase sales in Mexico and perhaps build another plant. But are these projects signs of a new era of investment, or exceptions that prove the rule?

The Integral Strategic Partnership establishes a framework to strengthen cooperation between China and Mexico, and to resolve differences when conflicts arise. Of late, there’s been far more of the latter, with two particularly high-profile economic debacles. First, the Mexican government cancelled public bidding on the construction of the Mexico City-Queretaro high-speed railway, after initially awarding the bid to a Chinese group. Then the Mexican government imposed a $1.5 million fine and cancelled a huge Chinese mall development, the Dragon Mart Cancun, after finding the development was causing significant environmental damage. In the wake of these cancellations, more than a few Chinese colleagues and professors asked me whether Mexico and its president were truly friends of their country.

Meanwhile, Chinese money is pouring into other Latin American countries. According to the Latin America and Caribbean Economic Commission, China’s loans “have become the most important source of foreign financing for many Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela, surpassing international financial institutions already present in the region.”

The mismatch between rhetoric and reality in Mexico is particularly apparent when you consider that Chinese financing typically goes toward resource extraction, transportation infrastructure, and energy projects, which are all closely aligned with the Mexican government’s stated development plans. Something is going on, but it’s not a true economic partnership.

In my next post, I will discuss why the economic relationship between China and Mexico has made so little progress.

 

The above post is by Adrián Cisneros Aguilar. Adrian is the founder/CEO of Chevaya (驰亚), an Asia-Pacific internationalisation services company. Adrián has a Doctor of Laws from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and an LL.M. in International and Chinese Law from Wuhan University.


Source: China Law Blog