INSIDE TRACK

Mexico 2014 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to Gustavo Almaraz Petrie, Executive Director of GEP: Grupo Estrategia Política, on the importance of lobbying and its role in building a better society and economy.

Gustavo Almaraz Petrie
BIOGRAPHY
Gustavo Almaraz Petrie holds a Law degree from the Universidad Panamericana and joined GEP: Grupo Estrategia Política in 2002, where he is currently Executive Director. He is also Vice-President for the National Association of Professional Lobbying (PROCAB), a non-profit organization founded in 2000, the mission of which is to promote the development of ethical, professional practices in lobbying activity.

In a time of important political reforms in Mexico, how does lobbying ensure that all actors of the various sectors benefit from them?

It's not so much about benefiting from the reforms as it is being a part of those reforms and having a voice and the possibility to express your point of view. The final decision is always in the hands of the authorities and the legislature. As lobbyists we have to be very respectful of that. The most important aspect of the lobbying process is to provide the right information for those key actors. When a country is in transition, it may not be possible to have a say in some of the decisions. If you do, you have the possibility of helping to change or shift policy. That is why lobbying is so important, and such a good instrument, and if an industry understands this, it has a timely say with the correct information. Otherwise, is too late for the company to have that discussion, and is unable to make proper use of the tool.

What are the parameters of lobbying in Mexico? When should foreign investors resort to a lobbying firm, and what can they expect?

We recommend being proactive. Always lobby pro-actively, and lobby broadly over a long period of time. Reactive lobbying is insufficient, as you're always late to the table and unable to effectively deliver your message. It's best not to convey your message in a crisis situation. I always tell my clients that in-house lobbying in your firm is always as important as your lawyer, your accountant, or your marketing or finance chief. You have to have that assessment all the time when you're making a decision or an investment. If you don't understand the politics, laws, and fiscal scheme of the place you're investing in, then you're in trouble.

What is PROCAB's role in promoting lobbying in Mexico?

The National Association of Professional Lobbying (PROCAB) is an association with different committees in which we discuss the way we work and the way we should work, as well as our code of ethics, how to transmit our messages regarding lobbying in Mexico, how to be an efficient interlocutor, and how to propose good regulations that work.

“The National Association of Lobbying Professionals (PROCAB) is formed of 18 consulting firms and government relations areas representing private industry"

Corruption remains an important challenge for Mexico, but at the same time there are increasing efforts aimed at formalizing activities like lobbying. In such a context, how is lobbying perceived and how do you think you can improve the public awareness and perceptions of lobbying?

Perception is everything in this sector, and we have to do things correctly. My company was investigated for over a year to see if we had any ties to corruption. Only after that yearlong investigation were the government, politicians, and statesmen ready to work with me. In this line of work it takes just one mistake to end your business. It's a thin line often, but you have to determine where that line is and never cross it. Once you have the reputation of stability in that regard, nobody will ever propose anything irregular again; it will never come up again in conversation. I've been doing this for many years, and I've never been offered any illegal incentives to vote a certain way. The good thing about the Mexican Congress today is that there are so many parties that nobody can guarantee a successful vote. It makes Congress incorrigible in a way.

You represent a large portfolio of clients from many different sectors. Which sectors do you think have the greatest need for lobbying?

Insurance companies are always on the minds of policy makers, and so are always important clients. Being highly regulated they always have to keep abreast of legislative developments concerning their sector. The food industry is also on the minds of policy makers, not only due to the obesity issue, but also from a taxation perspective. The wine and liquor industry is another in need of lobbying worldwide. Overall, every industry and every sector is subject to rules and regulations that affect its constituent companies and players. Lobbying is an important resource for all these industries and sectors. Taking part in the making of national laws is rewarding. Through lobbying, we are looking out for an entire industry's interests, and having our efforts come to fruition for the benefit of the people we represent makes it all worthwhile.