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Mexico 2017 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado, President of Honduras, on boosting bilateral investment, the importance of Mexico, and the upcoming Mexico-Central America gas pipeline.

Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado
BIOGRAPHY
Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado has an MPA in legislative administration from SUNY Albany, and a bachelor’s degree in social and judicial sciences from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH). From 1998-2000 he served on the faculty of constitutional law at UNAH. From 1996-2002 he served as Director of the firm Hernández y Asociados. From 2010-2014 he served as a representative from the constituency of Lempira and as President of the National Congress. From 2012-2016 he was President of the Partido Nacional de Honduras. From 2005-2009 he served as Secretary General of the Partido Nacional de Honduras.

What efforts is the current administration taking to improve the investment climate and promote employment creation?

Honduras' economic growth is based upon the strengthening of institutions, infrastructure development, macroeconomic stability, and the development of our human capital. This is why our efforts have been focused on these four essential pillars to develop the basis of the second part of our program. To do so, we launched the 20/20 Honduras Project, which aims to improve the business climate, while focusing on the development of agribusiness, textiles, business services, tourism, intermediate manufacturing, and housing. Taken together, we hope this initiative will generate 600,000 jobs, attract investments of USD13 billion, and boost exports. These six economic sectors are where the Honduran economy really has the potential to take off and generate enough jobs to meet the needs of the population. We already have a solid growth of 3.6% of GDP, but we can reach more with the implementation of the 20/20 Honduras Project. We are also organizing a scholarship system that will allow us to train and develop our human resources with priority given to areas related to the 20/20 Honduras Project.

How will the government increase the country's competitiveness inside and outside the region?

The elements for increasing our competitiveness all lay within the four previously mentioned pillars. In the short term, investment in infrastructure will be one of the most important elements because it will turn Honduras into a logistics corridor for all of Central America. We also have a plentiful and potentially well-qualified workforce that has already shown its strength in the maquila manufacturing industry and in rendering various business services. Furthermore, we have made various legislative advances that enhance foreign investors' legal protections, not to mention improved our competitiveness, both of which are reflected in our international rankings. For example, we moved up 23 places in the World Economic Forum's global rankings from 111th in 2014 to 88th in 2016. Our goal is to continue moving forward and make the country more competitive.

With nearly USD1 billion in bilateral trade, Mexico is Honduras' fourth-largest trading partner. How important is this economic relationship?

Mexico is not only an important trading partner but also a prominent investor in our country. With trade of approximately USD1 billion and hopefully rising, I hope these ties will strengthen and continue to generate more jobs in both countries. I also hope our FTA remains in place and that we can continue to expand our commercial ties with our northern partner. Both countries have opportunities to grow even more as trading partners because of our proximity, shared cultural values, and common identity.
How would you rate the importance of the Mexico-Central America gas pipeline for Honduras?
This is an important project not only for Honduras but for all of Central America. Undoubtedly, having an alternative energy source at competitive prices is important to improving the competitiveness of our economy. It also gives Mexico permanent and reliable clients within its natural sphere of influence. We must remember that the relationship between Mexico and Honduras dates to pre-Colombian times. Thus, the gas pipeline is important for the region, as it would generate an energy zone between Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and, hopefully, El Salvador. It will be a multi-million dollar investment that will benefit the entire region.

How would you evaluate the importance of the role performed by Mexican private sector investors in the Honduran economy?

Mexican investors have been and currently are the number one foreign investors in Honduras. Nonetheless, we are always looking for more Mexican investments in Honduras, which is why I made two visits to several Mexico states to encourage them to come, invest, and settle in Honduras. As a result of these visits, an increasing amount of governors' delegations and business leaders are coming here. I am convinced the arrival of Mexican companies would not only benefit Honduras for employment creation, but Mexico as well.