ANTONIO MALOUF

Mexico 2021 | DIPLOMACY & ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

Given the shared border and many similarities between Guatemala and the south of Mexico, the region can benefit significantly from common initiatives and development plans.

Antonio Malouf
BIOGRAPHY

Antonio Malouf is a textile engineer and economist from North Carolina State University. He has assumed a wide range of high-level positions throughout his careers including president of the Guatemalan Exporters Association (Agexport), director of the commission for textiles and clothing (Vestex), president of the Organizing Committee of the Apparel Sourcing Show, organizer of the Ibero-American Business Meeting, and president of the Ibero-American Business Council (CEIB), among other roles. He is currently Minister of Economy in the government of President Alejandro Giammattei.

What actions and strategies have you been implementing to reactivate Guatemala's economy and minimize the impact of the pandemic?

Guatemala's central government and congress have given us money via central bank bonds to reactivate the economy during the pandemic. Some were for loans for SMEs, and others were to help people with their electricity bills and other basic needs to get through the pandemic. The Ministry of Economy was in charge of disbursing GTQ2 billion (USD256 million) to people with regulated jobs in the market, and we already finished allocating that money.

What initiatives is the government implementing to strengthen Guatemala's commercial relationship with Mexico?

The double taxation law is one of them. Guatemala and Mexico have been partners for such a long time that we want more products from Mexico than from any other Central American country. Four out of every 10 products imported from Mexico in the region are purchased in Guatemala. Our country also serves as a transit point for Mexican products, meaning our economies are intertwined to a level where we can both benefit. Furthermore, Guatemala can supply raw materials as well as finished products to Mexico faster than any other country in the region. We offer products that have been well accepted in the Mexican market, such as palm oil, natural rubber, frozen shrimp, and sugar confectioneries, among other goods. Our government is also aware we need to improve logistics and infrastructure. This is why we are taking the above measures.

What would be your advice to Mexican companies looking to enter the Guatemalan market and/or use the country as the gateway to the Central American region?

There are opportunities for both Mexican and Guatemalan companies. Medical supplies and the pharmaceuticals sector represent a great opportunity to explore. According to Euromonitor International, fresh food as an industry will see higher growth this year. It is, therefore, important that both countries explore the opportunities for companies in the food sector. There is also interest in the construction sector, because Mexican companies are larger than Guatemalan ones and have more experience in building the infrastructure that Mexico has had for many years.

In 2013, an FTA was signed between Central America and Mexico. What have been the main achievements of this agreement so far in terms of Guatemala and Mexico?

Both our governments need to make slightly more effort under this agreement to be consistent, given this relates to the economies of neighboring countries. The south of Mexico can benefit heavily alongside Guatemala because we not only have a common border, but the people are also similar. Mexico being a federation, we can go directly to the governments of southern Mexican states to create commerce between the state governments and the Guatemalan government. This is one of the ideas—we want to develop our country as well as those southern Mexican states that have not been developed, unlike Mexico's northern states. We want to be part of that development trend set out by the Mexican president.

Are there opportunities to create integrated supply chains between Mexico and Guatemala?

Guatemalan President Giammattei has been clear that he wants to promote a “prosperity wall"—if our countries are prosperous, and people can find a job and build a house, they will want to stay. We want to create that prosperity on the southern Mexican-northern Guatemalan border. That will likely not happen in the short term; however, for the medium term, that is the joint plan.