Hosting the G20, Mexico is 'Greece no more'

Mexico is increasingly speaking as a world leader as it shed its image as the 'Greece of the '80s and '90s,' when it suffered excruciating debt and monetary crises.

Andres Stapff/REUTERS
Mexico's President Felipe Calderon (L) and Mexico's Economic Secretary Bruno Ferrari talk before the opening of a panel prior to the G20 summit in Los Cabos June 17. G20 leaders will kick off two days of meetings in the Pacific resort of Los Cabos on Monday.

Mexico doesn't often bask in the glow of good news.

But, at least for today, it is hosting the G20 in Los Cabos in Baja California, the first time the event is being held in Latin America

The mood at the annual summit of the world's leading economies is anything but upbeat, despite a temporary sigh of relief that Greeks elected into office the pro-bailout candidate – averting, at least temporarily, an immediate meltdown in the European Union.

As it has for the third year in a row, the eurozone crisis will be at the center of G20 talks. But at least Mexico, along with a host of developing countries in Latin America, is on the right side of macroeconomic stability, after finding itself at the center of economic crises in the '80s and '90s.

The expectations are not high that the G20 is actually going to solve any of the globe's problems, but it does give Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who is at the end of his presidency and constitutionally barred from running for re-election, perhaps his last opportunity to put Mexico on the international stage for something other than the grisly drug violence that has dominated world headlines.

“A lot of countries are belly up and we are not. We have ideas about how to face these things,” says David Mena Alemán, a professor of international affairs at the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City. “In other conditions there are things that would have detracted from any prestige or recognition of the Mexican government – why there are so many poor, why we are sending so many people to US, and all the drug trafficking – but there is a mega crisis out there, and [countries] are willing to listen to how we dealt with it and how we are dealing with it.”

Leaders of the G20, who began arriving in Mexico on Sunday, were holding their breath over the outcome in Greece. The New Democracy party, which favors the terms of a EU bailout, won. Had the leftist party Syriza taken the race, rejecting the austerity placed on the nation, panic in the markets would have taken every ounce of leaders' energy at the G20 as the EU may have been faced with the unprecedented consequence of a country leaving the eurozone.

While President Calderon has downplayed expectations of what the meeting can accomplish, he has said that the meeting could produce more funds for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), without the contribution of the US – a small example of the new voice that lesser developed nations have won through the years, particularly as their economic health has remained solid despite the world financial crisis. (The US is bowing out of funding what has been portrayed as a bailout for Europe.)

“I hope there’s a very important agreement about the IMF,” Calderon said. “It’s going to be the first time the fund is capitalized without the US, which reflects the importance of emerging markets.” 

Calderon acknowledges that Mexico's identity abroad has been colored by the 50,000-plus murders in drug-fueled violence that have occurred since he took office and sent the military to fight organized crime. As the meeting kicked off he sought to highlight what Mexico has done well, including its ability to hold major events like the G20 (as well as the 2010 climate summit in Cancun and the pope's visit this spring).

Mexico, of course, has deep-rooted problems that have long kept it back (a theme that we will explore in the next edition of our print magazine ahead of Mexico's July 1 presidential race.)

But it has also done well on many measures – particularly well during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, given its long-running dependence on the US and the scale of the crisis. Its economy's growth is picking up, outpacing the much more celebrated Brazil last year and probably this year as well. More to the point, in contrast to the eurozone crisis that as host of the G20 it is trying to help solve, it's been stable for nearly 20 years. Inflation is in check, its economy wide open.

(See an interesting Economist analysis of growing trade relations with the US here). 

This spring, Eric Olson, a Mexico expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, attended a speech by Calderon, who delivered the Henry Kissinger lecture at the Library of Congress.

Calderon, Mr. Olson recalls, started talking about the EU, about the problems in Greece and Spain. “At first I didn't understand,” says Olson. “And then I realized, this is Mexico speaking as the [host] of the G20. This is Mexico speaking as a world leader, not Mexico limiting itself to US-Mexico relations, the traditional role they play.”

Or as David Shirk at San Diego University's Trans-Border Institute puts it in a recent opinion piece at the BBC: “If Mexico were a stock, now might be the time to buy. The country has been severely under-valued in recent years.”

"Mexico was arguably the Greece of the 1980s and 1990s, suffering excruciating debt and monetary crises. But Mexico, which hosts the G20 summit next week, is Greece no more."

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