Blogs & Comment

A New Mexican Ambassador for Canada

Francisco Barrio, the new Mexican Ambassador to Canada, stopped by the Canadian Businessoffices yesterday to chat with a group of CBeditors and writers. A former governor of Chihuahua, Barrio also served as secretary of Comptrollership and Administrative Development in the cabinet of the former Mexican president Vicente Fox, and took up his position as Ambassador last week, his first diplomatic posting. Barrio has travelled to Canada before, but will be filling in his knowledge of the country. Mexicans have good feelings about Canada, but little real knowledge, he says. He went on to talk about our common principal commercial partner, the U.S., and suggested the “Buy America” provisions bouncing around Washington, D.C., are a worry in Mexico City as they are in Ottawa. We are both small in relation to the U.S. and so there are symmetries, he says. “Buy America poses a big threat to both our countries.
He also mentioned the need for investment in the mining sector (We can hardly think of mining in Mexico without thinking of Canada, he says) and tourism. For the first time more than one million Canadians visited last year, he says. For us, thats an important number.
In response to a question about the spate of violence in his home state of Chihuahua, he made it clear the government is taking new and more forceful action in the drug war currently being waged there. The decision President Caldern has made to fight a real war against the drug lords is the right one. This should have been done long ago. We could have avoided many problems, said Barrio. But he suggests things are likely to get worse before they get better, I think we are going to have to pay some costs. There is difficult time ahead. But finally the state will prevail.
He went on to say that he was surprised to see anti-gang demonstrations taking place in Vancouver. Noting he didnt think hed encounter that kind of thing here, he suggested the drug trade is a continental phenomenon. It seems criminal gangs in our three countries are going to be more connected, he says.
When it comes to the state of the Mexican governments finances Canadians might be surprised to learn that Mexican fiscal health is in better shape than the United States these days, a reversal from the mid-90s when Bill Clinton led an initiative to bail out the Mexican peso. That era is past, says Barrio. We survived and reorganized.
And now the Mexican banks are very stable. We are in a very good position, he says. In fact, public finances in Mexico are doing pretty well. The leverage ratios at Mexican banks are lower than those at Canadian ones. As well, the government depends to a great extent on revenues from the national oil company, PEMEX for its revenues. And in a great example of successful hedging, the Mexican government had the foresight to lock in 2009 oil revenue through futures contracts at $71 a barrel. With oil headed to $30 that decision was a smart one as it has preserved state finances. We are in a good position with respect to stimulus, says Barrio.
When asked about some of the worries around the flow of seasonal workers between Mexico and southern Ontario (where Mexican labour is a big part of the greenhouse industry), he was circumspect. Some workers have complained that they are heavily taxed, yet cannot draw on government services.
Others have complained they are badly treated and have been forced to live in dismal conditions. We have found some problems with seasonal workers. But I think that the problem is very small, says Barrio. The benefits for workers and for employers far outweigh any of the problems. He points out that 80% of workers in the Seasonal Worker Agricultural Program (SWAP) come back. That level tells you about the level of satisfaction, he says.
The workers come to Canada through SWAP have become a fixture in Essex County in southwestern Ontario, where Mexican stores and restaurants have popped up to serve the population. Leamington, Ont., a small municipality on the shores of Lake Erie. Better known as the tomato capital of Canada, Leamington even has its own Mexican consulate these days. Its an example of the kind of continental integration between Canada and Mexico that Barrio hopes to foster.