Mexico and the Czech Republic are celebrating the centenary of diplomatic relations this year. Despite the geographical distance, there are many things that unite us, from the shared historical experience or the fact that both countries have a large and important neighbour, the United States and Germany, respectively, to the focus of our economies on engineering and automotive. We talked about all this with the Ambassador of Mexico Leonora Rueda at the Mexican Embassy in Prague.
What important milestones would you mention in the history of relations between our two countries?
When Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918, Mexico was undergoing a democratic revival after a previous thirty years of dictatorship, and only a year before it had approved a constitution that is still valid today. In the interwar period, ie during the period of the Czechoslovak first republic, our countries had very close ties. It is also one of the reasons why one of the main avenues in the Polanco residential district of Mexico City was named after President Masaryk in 1936, and in the same year President Masaryk High School was established in Mexico City as well. Let me make a personal memory here: it just so happens that I also attended this school a few decades later, and I remember that every Monday we used to sing the Mexican and (then) Czechoslovak anthem. I can still remember the lyrics of your anthem by heart!
Another important Czech personality who will be forever in the hearts of Mexicans was Věra Čáslavská. She won them over at the Olympics in Mexico in 1968 not only with her sports excellence, but also with her protest against the Soviet invasion on the podium. Then, of course, I must mention that Václav Havel visited Mexico in 1990 as one of the first countries after the revolution. Finally, in 2005, our countries established the so-called bilateral mechanism of political consultations, and in May this year, the eighth meeting will take place within this structure, as the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mexico comes to Prague.
Win the hearts of the Czech public for Mexico
What were the main goals that you set at the beginning for your diplomatic mission here?
First of all, we wanted to make the Czech public more aware of Mexico and win their hearts for our culture, cuisine and the like. I believe that political and social ties between countries are primarily based on relations between ordinary people, or on the very fact that people from a given country have any awareness of your nation at all. Only when another country becomes familiar with your country, the people and businesses from that country can think of your country as an opportunity. Any business relationship or investment must be preceded by mutual interest and creation of cultural ties, for example through educational events.
Have you managed to strengthen these relations between Mexico and the Czech Republic? What are you most proud of?
A good example is our successful project Days of Mexican Cuisine, where school canteens in various regions of your country prepared our traditional meals with the help of a Mexican chef. Another great project was Mexican Days, where children at thirty schools throughout the Czech Republic engaged in activities related to Mexican geography, history, traditions, customs or gastronomy. I have personally attended all these events and I am hoping that these young people will remember Mexico as a friendly country.
You will surely keep close ties with the Mexican Chamber of Commerce. Which Mexican companies are among the most active in the Czech market?
I will mention Cemex, which supplies building materials, and Nemak, which manufactures cylinder heads in the Czech Republic. Las Adelitas, the successful Prague-based restaurant chain, has recently started producing and selling Mexican food. As far as the Mexican Chamber of Commerce is concerned, we are planning changes in its operation so that it is more dynamic and can make better use of the trade and investment potential that exists between our countries.
New trade agreement between Mexico and the EU
Mexico is one of the most populated countries and the fifteenth largest economy in the world, and its foreign policy significance is growing. What other reasons are there for Czech companies to expand to Mexico?
I think that both of our countries are economically perhaps too dependent on their big neighbour – the US in our case, and Germany in your case. It is all the more important for us to diversify resources and economic partners. The current FTA between Mexico and the EU was signed in 2000, and since then the volume of our mutual trade with the Czech Republic has increased by 80 percent.
There are currently over 30 Czech companies operating in Mexico, most of them in the automotive industry, as our country is also very strong in this sector. I know that your readers are mainly owners of SMEs, so I would like to mention that we are here to help them, as they often do not have as well-established networks of relationships and contacts as large companies.
We are here to help Czech SMEs enter the Mexican market.
Which sectors entail the biggest opportunities in Mexico?
Prospective sectors in Mexico are, for example, renewable energies, aerospace, waste management and electric cars production. But in my view, the best thing Czech companies in our country can do in Mexico is to invest in research, development and production of advanced technologies for export to the largest markets in the world, particularly the USA. Most of Mexico's population is made up of young people: more than 160,000 new engineers graduate from our universities each year. In addition to creating job opportunities for them in Mexico, it would also help address the long-term shortage of skilled labour in the Czech Republic.
Is there a legislative framework that would make this easier for Czech companies?
An important instrument that keeps Mexico closely linked to the US market is the T-MEC (or NAFTA 2) free trade agreement of 2020. Regarding trade between Mexico and the EU, we hope that during the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU, the updated FTA between Mexico and the EU will be signed to replace the existing 2000 agreement. It is already obsolete, especially in the fields of new technologies, environmental law and dispute resolution. This new agreement could open many doors for mutual trade and investment, while setting the conditions for better, fairer and more modern cooperation. Another important argument is also the increased need for diversification, not only in connection with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but also with regard to supply chain failures, particularly on the part of China.
From my position, I am ready to do my utmost to ensure that the agreement is signed and ratified as soon as possible. For example, I can help answer any questions during the ratification process of the agreement in the national parliaments of the individual countries.
What activities does the Embassy do to promote mutual tourist exchange?
Our embassy actively cooperates with travel agencies. We meet them regularly and give them presentations of various tourist destinations in Mexico. For example, the Mexikocesky travel agency, run by a wonderful lady from the Czech Republic, has been operating in Cancún for ten years. I am very pleased that also thanks to these people, more and more Czechs travel to Mexico every year, and at the same time the number of Czechs who have a temporary or permanent residence in our country also increasing.
How much is Mexico feeling the impact of the covid-19 pandemic, whether in terms of health and social impact or economic consequences?
Mexico was hit by the pandemic in a similar way as many other countries around the world. Inflation, which is now around 7.5 percent, and supply chain interruptions are the main factors that have an impact on the expected recovery. However, our economic reserves are at a good level, our currency is stable, tourism is returning to pre-pandemic levels as well as business activity. So in this sense, the general outlook for Mexico is good.
I admire many things about the Czech nation and country
During your career, you have served as ambassador to countries as diverse as New Zealand, Jamaica and Vietnam. You also worked as a consul in the US state of Louisiana. How does Czechia compare to these countries in your view?
One of the most interesting elements of the ambassador's work is getting to know the interests and customs of different nations as well as their different worldviews. These countries and their economies are very difficult to compare due to the significant differences in their size, geographical location and, of course, their level of development. The only thing I would like to point out is that I have learned from my experience how much of a competitive advantage it is to have access to the sea. And this is what your country is lacking. But I admire the Czech Republic all the more, since as a small landlocked country, it has achieved incredible success and a high economic and social standard.
What experiences from Czechia will you remember the most?
For example, the unforgettable meetings with famous Czech people: I was lucky to meet Karel Gott three months before his departure, I was impressed by the modesty of Jaromír Jágr and by the creative spirit of Kamu. But it's not just these well-known people - all the teachers I have had the honour to meet as part of our projects were passionate about their job and very enthusiastic about teaching their students. This is extremely important, because these young people will one day take responsibility for the further direction of the amazing Czech nation, which I admire so much. Last but not least, I will always remember the indescribable beauty of your country, the countless small details of various buildings and other places, but also the taste of medovník, trdelník or Pilsner beer.
Leonora Rueda was interviewed by Daniel Libertin
Photo credits: Leonora Rueda