It is not often that Americans look south of the border for solutions, but Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto seems to have figured out a few things in his first year of power that has, in six years, eluded Obama.
Late last month, Peña Nieto spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. There, he highlighted his first-year achievements: “a legislative consensus with the two major opposition parties on the transformations and structural reforms that the country needed,” reports Mexico City’s The News. He pointed out that this has been achieved “in a climate of plurality and diversity.”
A few months ago, with great enthusiasm, I wrote about Peña Nieto’s proposed energy reforms—something his predecessor had been unable to achieve. (President Felipe Calderon’s critics believed his proposals violated the constitution.) The reforms passed on December 12, 2013, amend Articles 25, 27 and 28 of Mexico's constitution to allow profit- and production-sharing contracts, and licenses. The reforms also put an end to government monopolies in the operation of oil-and-gas fields, while maintaining the Mexican government’s ownership of the country’s resources.
“The current government’s ability to build coalitions puts Mexico on the verge of its biggest economic victory since the North American Free Trade Agreement,” states Arturo Sarukhan, who has served in Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The reform is important because one third of Mexico’s federal budget—including healthcare, schools, and infrastructure—comes from oil wealth that has declined 25 percent since its peak just a decade ago. It has the potential to transform Mexico’s economy by inviting foreign investment, which Peña Nieto successfully argued is needed to “allow Mexico to capitalize on its shale oil-and-gas deposits.” Because almost all of the profits of Mexico’s state-owned oil company, Pemex, have gone back into the national coffers—and not into research and development—Mexico lacks the technical expertise to exploit its unconventional resources and deep-water deposits. Even in Mexico, the era of easy oil is over.
Fluvio C. Ruiz Alarcon, an independent director at Pemex, explains: “It will be vital to improve its technological competencies if Pemex is to remain competitive. It will need firm partnerships with companies from other countries.” He adds: “Pemex will need to change from a public entity to a productive state enterprise.”