Mexico, Israel and the European Union

"Business people aware of the great advantages that each country has to offer the other."

Mexico is a Spanish-speaking country approximately 90 times the size of Israel, consisting of 31 states and one federal district. Mexico has a free-market economy that recently entered the trillion-dollar class. It contains a mixture of modern and outmoded industry and agriculture, increasingly dominated by the private sector. Recent administrations have expanded competition in seaports, railroads, telecommunications, electricity generation, natural gas distribution and airports. Trade with the US and Canada has tripled since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. Mexico has 12 free-trade agreements with more than 40 countries, including Israel. Mexican Ambassador to Israel Federico Salas was born in Mexico City in 1955. He earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Harvard University and a master's degree in political science from el Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City. He was a fellow researcher in the Mexico-United States Studies Center in San Diego, California. Salas joined the Mexican diplomatic service in 1989 and was promoted to the rank of ambassador in January 2000. From May 2001 until last year, when he arrived in Israel, he served as ambassador to the Czech Republic. I met Salas last week in the Mexican Embassy to discuss Mexico, Israel, the European Union and what's between them. Here are some excerpts. What can be done to further promote commercial relations between Israel and Mexico? We need to make both Mexican and Israeli business people aware of the great advantages that each country has to offer the other. We have a Free Trade Agreement, and that represents a tremendous opportunity on both sides. The Free Trade Agreement has delivered a much healthier trade relationship between Israel and Mexico, but there is still room for much more. Business people on both sides of the equations need to know this and take advantage of it. You served as the Mexican ambassador in the Czech Republic. That country is small like Israel, with vibrant people. How do you see the comparison between the business communities in the two countries? Israel has a great advantage over the Czech Republic in the sense that it has been a capitalist country all along, so it has a more numerous and experienced business community. But in both cases, it is important to be enterprising and accept the challenges of trading with countries which may be geographically distant but which represent enormous advantages, like Mexico, which has a wide network of free-trade agreements with some 44 countries. As a non-Israeli who resides in Israeli and as an expert on international affairs, how do you think Israel can strengthen its commercial relations with Europe? Israel is in a privileged position to strengthen its commercial links with Europe. It is geographically very close and has much to offer, from the agricultural production to the hi-tech developments that are a great asset to this country's participation in the global market. Mexico has good diplomatic relations with Israel and with its Arab neighbors. How can Mexico be a bridge to boost economic and business relations between the business sectors of these countries? I think Mexico can be a bridge in the sense that in our country, businesses from both Israel and the Arab region coexist and take advantage of the many opportunities Mexico has to offer in terms of trade and investment. So it is not far-fetched to think of possible joint ventures or complimentary work, such as collaborating in assembling a product before it goes to the market. Israel is on its way to join the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development]. Mexico is already a member and the secretary-general of the OEDC, Angel Gurria, happens to be from Mexico. What can this new development mean for Israel-Mexico relations? Mexico is very supportive of Israel's accession to the OECD. And we know that Secretary-General Gurria is also keen to see Israel become a member. As members of the OECD, Mexico and Israel can work together to enhance the business environment that will allow a closer economic relationship between our two countries. It is also an additional forum for consultation and communication, which is always a bonus for the bilateral relationship. As an ambassador from a country which is a member of NAFTA, how do you compare the relations between NAFTA members to the relations between European Union member states? The North American Free Trade Agreement is just that - a free-trade agreement. The European Union is a much more ambitious integration project. Additionally, in the case of NAFTA, we have a very complex relationship because of the economic disparities of the countries involved, which is not the case, at least not to the same degree, in the European Union context. However, Mexico, Canada and the United States do experience a growing community of interests and, de facto, are undergoing an increasing integration. When can we expect the Mexican Embassy in Israel to move to Jerusalem? The status of Jerusalem is subject to negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. Mexico is very supportive of the peace process and participated in the Annapolis meeting. We expect that one of the end results of those negotiations will be an agreement on the final status situation of Jerusalem. Ari Syrquin is the head of the International Department at Joseph Shem-Tov Law Firm