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Mexico 2014 | DIPLOMACY | FOCUS: ASIAN AND MIDDLE-EASTERN RELATIONS

Although the US attracts roughly 80% of Mexico's exports, diplomats and business leaders in the country are looking to diversify their trading operations by strengthening ties with countries in the Middle East and Asia.

Over one million Mexicans can claim Arab descent, including billionaire Carlos Slim, and actress Salma Hayek. Arriving from the Middle East in the 19th and 20th centuries, these Arab immigrants rapidly integrated themselves into Mexico's social and economic life, and subtly introduced Arab culinary and cultural influences to their new environment. Well-known Mexican dishes such as tacos árabes use shawarma-style meat, and are served in pita bread known as pan árabe. Today, the transnational ties are as strong as ever, as increased travel, diplomacy, and trade agreements create links between Mexico and the Middle East.

In 2014, Mexico and the UAE held their first official diplomatic meeting since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1975. The meeting produced commitments to increase bilateral ties, as well as agreements eradicating double taxation, coordination of air transport, and establishment of visa exemptions for holders of diplomatic passports. Relations between the two countries are set to improve further in the next years, with the planned visit of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in 2015, and reciprocal travel plans by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai. In Amman, King Abdullah II told Mexico's Foreign Relations Secretary that Jordan represents Mexico's gateway to the Middle East. King Abdullah II also thanked Mexico for its financial and logistical role in supporting Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.

On the Economic front, trade agreements, and bilateral economic ties are ensuring that Mexico will remain an active player in Middle Eastern markets for years to come. In Saudi Arabia, Mexican companies are making inroads into the oil sector, such as Cerrey, which won contracts to provide heavy boilers to Saudi Aramco. While Mexico imports oil from the Kingdom, they sell cars, spare parts, and industrial equipment to Saudi markets. In hopes of increasing trade, Jordan plans to open an Embassy in Mexico and conclude a bilateral free trade agreement in 2014, in hopes of replicating other Middle Eastern states success stories. Mexico also hopes to finalize trade agreements with Turkey and Jordan in 2014, after inking the Agreement for the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments (BIT) with the United Arab Emirates.

Mexican culture is a hot commodity in Asia as consumers from Beijing to Saigon tune in by the millions to watch telenovelas, while Chinese tourists flood Mexico's beaches. More than two-thirds of the 65,000 Chinese nationals that flew to Mexico in 2012 were tourists. In 2011, a partnership between Televisia Internacional and Beginnings at Twenty Plus, a Manila-based media company spawned The Telenovela Channel, the first television channel in Asia dedicated entirely to broadcasting Mexican and Spanish soap operas. This event was the product of an international obsession with Mexican entertainment that predated the deal by decades. With television advertising predicted by McKinsey to reach $70 billion by 2016 in China alone, Asian media markets are an irresistible target for Mexico's television producers. Mexico based Grupo Televisa, the largest media company in the Spanish speaking market has been delivering its programming to Chinese television for over 15 years — and it now counts Asia as its second fastest growing market outside of Latin America. By 2006, Grupo Televisa was producing Mandarin telenovelas in China, some of which attract up to 11 million regular viewers.

Diplomats and politicians are working hard to match the successes of Mexican cultural products. In 2013 Chinese President Xi Jinping spent three days in Mexico where he signed a series of articles, and pledged to resolve differences. Trade has risen more than seven-fold since the two countries established their strategic partnership in 2003. South Korea, Mexico's sixth largest trading partner, is restarting trade talks with Mexico, six years after trade talks stalled due to industry opposition. But Korean companies are already ahead of the game, eying Mexico's neglected power generation network and other investment hungry sectors. In August 2014, South Korea's Kia Motors Corp. announced plans to invest more than $1 billion to build a car plant in northern Mexico that is expected to begin production in 2016.