Monday, October 28, 2013

From the "Labyrinth of Solitude" to a "Network of Partnerships" – the new story of Mexico .. a new opportunity for Indian business

Octavio Paz, the celebrated Mexican writer who was Ambassador to India in the sixties, wrote in his book " The Labyrinth of Solitude" that the "Mexican is always remote from the world and other people". This was his conclusion after an in-depth analysis of the character and identity of the Mexicans who have inherited a mix of Aztec and Mayan Indian traditions and European culture and have been influenced overwhelmingly by the culture of US. If Paz is alive today, he would have changed the title or written another book with the title" Network of Partnerships" to reflect the new reality of Mexico. The Mexicans are no longer alone in labyrinths introspecting their solitude. They have become extroverts, eagerly embracing partnership and alliance with countries around the world. Mexico has signed Free Trade Area ( FTA) agreements with 44 countries, which account for 70% of global GDP. Their FTA partners include US, Canada, European Union, EFTA countries, Japan and some Latin American countries. Mexico is member of  NAFTA, Pacific Alliance, APEC and OECD. It has joined the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which is negotiating a new generation economic partnership among 12 countries, going beyond conventional FTAs.

With these partnerships, Mexico has expanded its economic and commercial space beyond its own market of 114 million people and 1.3 trillion dollar GDP. It has become a geographic, linguistic and cultural link to the markets of its partners. Mexico straddles the developed markets of US and Canada in the north and the emerging markets of South and Central America. The country has access to the east through Atlantic and the west through Pacific. It connects the northern entrepreneurship culture to the Latino spirit.  As the largest spanish-speaking country in the world, Mexico is the entry point to the larger market of 400 million spanish speakers in Latin America, US and Europe.
Unlike the raw materials exporting South America, Mexico is an exporter of manufactured products such as automobiles, electronics and aerospace equipments. The country has a conducive ecosystem for manufacturing with an integrated supply chain, availability of large pool of skilled people and technologies. Companies from US, Europe, Japan, Korea and China are using Mexico as a platform for supplies to NAFTA markets. Mexico exports 80% of its 3 million cars produced annually. The car companies are investing 10 billion dollars in the next six years to modernize and expand their production facilities.
The cost of Mexican labour has become competitive vis-a-vis the Chinese whose wages have gone up. According to a recent study by Bank of America, Mexican wages are 20% cheaper than China's in some cases. Mexico has a large and growing young population unlike the ageing Chinese society. US imports from Mexico have started rising faster than those from China. It is, therefore, not surprising that Mexico is being talked of as the "China of the Americas". 
Mexico, the second largest economic partner of India has a competitive edge over Brazil and Argentina the number one and number three markets of Latin America. While Argentina and Brazil have erected a number of barriers for imports, the Mexican market is open with low tariffs. The Mexican government policies are more stable, transparent, predictable and investor-friendly. Argentina runs an annual inflation of 25% since 2007 and the companies are forced to increase the salaries of staff at least by 25% every year.  In Brazil, the cost of production, wages and interest rates are very high. In contrast, Mexico has low inflation (just 3.6% in 2012), low wages( 2.5 dollars an hour) and low interest rate of 4.8%. It is not surprising that Brazil has put restrictions on the imports of Made In Mexcio cars which threatened the high cost Brazilian automobile industry. In any case Mexico's trade of 740 billion dollars is larger than the combined trade of Brazil and Argentina which was 665 billion in 2012.

The Mexican market is going to be even more attractive in the future, given the ongoing reforms in various sectors of the economy under the "Mexico Pact", a consensus agreement between the four major political parties of the country on vital national issues and reforms.
Of course, Mexico faces many challenges such as crime, drug trafficking, poverty, inequality, slow economic growth, political polarization and corruption. The overdependence on the US market makes Mexico vulnerable to the economic situation there. But the point to note is that now the Mexicans have a new mindset, confidence and optimism to tackle these issues and believe in Reincarnation unlike the past when they had resigned themselves to the Karma.
With the large network of partnerships and competitive manufacturing environment and wages, Mexico offers a strategic base for Indian companies with global strategies. The Indian IT companies are already leveraging the unique position of Mexico for their global delivery services. For example TCS has 3000 staff in Mexico providing near-shore same time zone services to their US clients. They work 12 hours from Mexico and another 12 hours from India to provide 24/7 services seamlessly with their new 12/12 business model. Their Mexican programmers develop software in English for the US market and in Spanish for the Spanish speaking market of 400 million. TCS finds value addition from the different mindset and culture of their Mexican managers and developers who complement the Indian imagination and creativity.There are a dozen Indian companies manufacturing tyres, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and auto parts in Mexico mainly for exports to US. JK tyres, which has three plants employing 2000 Mexicans,  exports their products to even Brazil. 

India's trade with Mexico was 6.3 billion dollars in 2012, of which imports were 3.3 billion and exports 3 billion. India's imports of crude oil were 2.8 billion dollars in 2012. Mexico is keen to increase oil exports to India since US, their main market is reducing imports of Mexican oil thanks to the growing domestic production of shale oil and gas. India's exports could be increased to 10 billion dollars in the next five years if the Indian exporters target the Mexican market more seriously.The Indian government should sign a FTA with Mexico at the earliest to remove the disadvantage faced by Indian exports vis-a-vis the the exports from the 44 countries which have FTAs with Mexico.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mexican edutainment for Indian Betas and inspiration for Indian Netas

" Excess of Reality" - this was how Octavio Paz , the Mexican writer and Nobel prize winner, described his feeling when he set foot in Mumbai for the first time in 1951. He was absolutely overwhelmed by the crowds, colors, noise and smell of the bustling city of Bombay. Later he became Mexican ambassador to India and wrote poems and essays inspired by Lodhi garden in Delhi and Meenakshi temple in Madurai among others.
Now it is the turn of the Indian children to be overwhelmed by the excess of reality  and be inspired by a Mexican.  Xavier López Ancona, a Mexican entrepreneur has set up in Mumbai an innovative edutainment ( educational entertainment) centre "Kidzania", an indoor theme park, which lets the kids play 80 different real life roles. They can be  a pilot, surgeon, fashion designer, fireman, vet, cook and perform such jobs in the Kidzania which has over 60 establishments such as Bank, University, Fire Department, Radio Station and Newspaper. They  are either paid for their work as a Stylist, Construction Engineer, Surgeon,  or pay to get a service  from a University, Culinary School, Department Store, Driving School, Bollywood Acting Academy, Pottery Studio, Kalakshetra Art and Boxed Lunch Delivery service of the famous Dabbavala of Mumbai. The Kidzania city is built to scale for children, complete with paved roads and cars, city buildings, recognisable establishments and a functioning economy. Kidzania combines education with fun and help the children discover their own talents, identify their aptitude, explore career options and develop a real world consciousness.
For Xavier López Ancona, the Mumbai Kidzania is the fourteenth centre. He established the first one in Mexico City in 1999 and has opened in nine countries namely Chile, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Portugal, South Korea, Thailand and United Arab Emirates. His next Kidzania centre in India will be in Delhi by 2015 and later in Bengaluru. Mr Ancona is not only an innovative entrepreneur but also a smart businessman. This is evident from his strategy of partnership with Shah Rukh Khan who holds 26% stake in the venture. King Khan himself inaugurated the Mumbai centre on 29 August.
While Kidzania edutains the Indian kids, another Mexican company Cinepolis is entertaining the adults of India through its multiplexes in cities such as Amritsar, Thane, Bengaluru, Patna, Bhopal, Ahmedabad, Surat, Ludhiana, Mangalore, Jaipur and Mumbai. They have an ambitious plan to operate 500 screens in India with an investment of Rs 1,500 crores. Cinepolis is the biggest cinema chain in Mexico with 205 theaters in 65 cities, the largest chain in Latin America and the fourth largest in the world with over 230 theaters and 3,000 screens.
Besides the two Mexican companies, a Mexican actress too has joined in entertaining the Indian audience. Barbara Mori, the Mexican actress has acted in the Bollywood film "Kites" ( released in 2010) with Hrithik Roshan.
Mexico could be an inspiration for Indian Netas too.. The " Pact for Mexico"( Pacto por Mexico), an agreement signed in December 2012 by the four major political parties of the country committing support to vital policies and reforms of national importance is a model for Indian political leaders. The Pact has brought together the ruling centre-left Instituitional Revolutionary Party(PRI) and the three principal opposition parties; the leftist PRD party, the Conservative  PAN ( which was ousted from power in 2012 after two terms) and the Green Party which joined the Pact in January 2013. The political parties came together for the Pact after the realization that the polarization of politics had weakened the country alarmingly. The 95- point agenda of the pact ranges from tax overhaul to barring junk food in schools. The Pact has already helped in passing legislative bills to reform the educational system; a legal reform to strip public officials of immunity from criminal prosecution; a telecommunications bill that limits the quasi-monopolistic powers of the country's biggest telephone company, controlled by Carlos Slim, the world's richest man. A  tax reform bill has just been presented in the Congress. Electoral and energy reforms are the next to follow. 
The Mexico Pact was an initiative by Enrique Penha Nieto the dynamic, young visionary who took over as President of Mexico on 1 December 2012. His party started the negotiations with the other parties as soon as he was elected in July 2012 and  signed the Pact on the second day after his inauguration.  Despite the ideological differences and clash of political interests, the leaders of the four parties meet regularly over Tequila and Tacos to reach consensus on policies of crucial national importance. The Economist magazine commended, "Mexico appears to have found the medicine for political gridlock" and commented,"plenty of Americans must have cast a jealous eye south of the border this year".  Wall Street Journal wrote, " At a time when politicians in Washington struggle to agree on anything, their Mexican counterparts sit down almost daily to talk about thorny issues". Understandably, tensions and conflicts between the parties and the protests by vested interests affected by reforms continue to pose challenges for the implementation of the Pact. But the Mexicans, in general, are encouraged by the new consensual approach of the parties and are optimistic that Mexico has a new future.
The Indian political parties need to learn from the constructive consensus of  "Pact for Mexico"and stop the destructive divide which has hindered reforms and development of India. The next Prime Minister in 2014 should start with a "Pact for India".