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The first round of NAFTA renegotiations between the United States, Canada, and Mexico concluded in Washington this past Sunday. Trade representatives from each country began to lay out their goals for a probable update of NAFTA policy. The 24-year-old trade bloc, which was established to eliminate barriers among its three trade partners, has garnered intense backlash in recent years. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a third of U.S. manufacturing jobs have been lost since NAFTA was first established. In addition, NAFTA has caused Mexico to lose 1.3 million farm jobs due to removed tariffs that rendered Mexican farmers effectively noncompetitive.

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On April 26, United States President Donald Trump announced plans to "re-negotiate" the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico. As related in a White House press release, the administration had intended to completely withdraw the U.S. from the trade deal, but was dissuaded from doing following conversations with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Peña Nieto. At present, NAFTA stands in its current form, although the U.S. has explicitly stated its desire for major changes to the trade deal. The situation is predictive of a potentially volatile future for NAFTA and trade relations between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

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In conjunction with our blog series on central banking policy throughout the world, today we turn our attention to Central America and the unique fiscal and monetary landscape that is often an afterthought when examining the world economy. For the purposes of this blog, when referencing Central America, we are incorporating Mexico and all other continental countries of North America that are south of the United States of America. While Europe, Japan, and the US are locked into low interest rate environments, Central America offers a unique landscape for central banking.

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Ok, so normally my globalEDGE blogs are a bit more topical, serious, and germane to my international business and trade interests. But I’m finding myself up early, from jetlag, in my hotel room in Nairobi, Kenya where I am attending the joint meeting of UNCTAD and the World Investment Forum, and it strikes me that cocoa beans have been in the news lately. And the world may not have noticed!

Let’s connect the dots. Kenya is of course in Africa, and Africa accounts for 73 percent of the world’s cocoa bean production according to a 2016 report by UNCTAD (but only 19 percent of the cocoa bean roasting/grinding/refinement which is done mainly in other parts of the world, led by Europe at 39 percent). In Africa, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire lead the way – each country has about 30 percent of their export earnings coming from the cocoa bean commodity. And therein lies the crux perhaps; that cocoa beans are viewed as a commodity.

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On Wednesday, United States President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will meet in Ottawa for the annual North American Leaders' Summit. The meeting, commonly referred to as the Three Amigos Summit, has gathered almost every year since 2005 to discuss strategic cooperation and important economic issues. This year's meeting in particular will prove to be of high significance. The primary objective of the 2016 Summit is to develop clean power plans for each country in the continued combat against climate change. However, recent political developments may cast a shadow over this year's talks.

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Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is now at the halfway point of his 6 year presidential term. On Wednesday, he delivered his third State of the Union address, during which he highlighted his plan to boost the Mexican economy. Although a number of measures and reforms were proposed, many Mexican citizens believe that the President’s reforms have not succeeded due to the corruption and economic uncertainties present throughout the country.

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For the first time in nearly 80 years, Mexico is holding an oil auction in which energy firms from all over the world will compete. Is this bid for oil going to hold lackluster results or is it the key for Mexico's energy reform? Petróleos Mexicanos, mononymously known as Pemex, virtually controls the entire nation’s oil industry. Nationalized in 1938, Pemex was designed to push out external parties like the U.K. and the U.S. following major labor disputes and their ostensible domination of the energy markets. Therefore, the auctions being held are a step, or leap, in the opposite direction. The bidding marks the first time ever that private oil companies are being allowed to set up in Mexico and that oil contracts are being sold off. For a country whose oil industry has been monopolized for 77 years, the auctioning offers a world of possibilities to both Mexico and its prospective investors. To be exact, the sell-off is estimated to draw in a revitalizing $62.5 billion for the Mexican economy.

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Brazil and Mexico have renewed vehicle quotas for four years, postponing the creation of a free trade agreement to at least 2019. The two largest Latin American economies originally had free trade of vehicles for a brief period in 2011 and 2012, but transitioned to a quota system after Brazil complained of economic issues that were hurting the nation’s competitiveness abroad, especially in the auto industry. The new deal penned earlier this month permits $1.56 billion of duty-free vehicle imports for the first year of the agreement. This amount will increase by 3% every year until 2019 when the nations will return to free trade, barring any extension or renewal of the quota system.

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The slogan, “Time is Money, Efficiency is Life”, has driven China to become the world’s largest manufacturing power over the last decade. But the era of cheap China seems to be drawing to an end now. A similar issue is happening in another part of the world. Australia, the old auto-manufacturing giant, is seeing an increasing number of auto-production lines drawing out of the country and moving to lower-cost destinations around the world. The global manufacturing industry is currently undergoing dramatic changes.

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Within the past week, the Congress of Mexico has approved new legislation that will allow the country's energy industry to award contracts to private oil companies. As a result of these new reforms, not only will the state-owned oil giant Pemex lose its monopoly over the country's oil sector that it's held since 1938, but foreign oil firms will also be able to enter the lucrative Mexican oil market.

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On February 19th, President Barack Obama flew to Mexico to meet with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, approximately twenty years after the three nations had signed NAFTA. The goal of the Toluca summit was to attempt to reduce trade frictions and come to agreement on trade conflicts between these countries. Issues discussed included Obama's trade executive order, the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, the "trusted traveler" program, updating NAFTA, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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In 2001, economist Jim O’Neill identified the world’s strongest emerging economies as the BRIC countries, which is an acronym that stands for Brazil, Russia, India, and China.  Thirteen years later, O’Neill has offered another acronym defining today’s emerging economic powerhouses – the MINT countries.  Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey all show signs of strong future GDP growth and the potential to become major players in the global economy.

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Worrying about the United States expansionary ambitions in the mid-1800s, Mexico prohibited foreign ownership of land within 50 kilometers (31 miles) of the coast or 100 kilometers of an international border. This policy was pretty efficient for protecting the homeland but it did block some foreign investments throughout history. As the financial crisis spread all over the world, Cancun realized it needs help from foreign investors and this help was going to break the law. Some real-estate developers believe the move could boost the nation's vacation-home market, while others think it would be hard on the locals acquiring their own estates.

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While most news headlines involving Mexico revolve around drug cartels, illegal immigration, and law enforcement, economists are noticing a new story south of the border. Trade between the United States and Mexico has been surging recently, including a 17 percent increase to a record level of $461 billion (USD) in 2011. Mexico is currently competing with China for the title of America's second-largest trading partner following Canada, and the Mexican economy became the top investment destination for the aerospace industry this year. Mexico's middle class, which is quickly growing to be the country's majority, has been responsible for much of the trade with the U.S. since they are buying record levels of American goods.

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Franchises have been booming worldwide. Close to 10 million employees work at approximately 400,000 franchise locations worldwide. Franchise owners enjoy that they can open a restaurant without as much risk, and the restaurants enjoy the increase in revenue coming from new stores in a variety of countries. One of the most recent booms in the franchise world is the massive growth in Latin markets. In the past year alone Brazil has experienced a 15% growth in franchises, Mexico has had a 13% increase, and Argentina also had double digit growth with 10.5%. 

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After a strong recovery last year, local and foreign investors are optimistic about growth and investment opportunities in Mexico. The strong recovery in 2010 was fueled by the increase of exports and tourism as well as growth in the mining industry. These factors helped produce an economic growth of 5.5 percent. This was the best result Mexico has experienced over the past decade. Mexico looks to continue this economic growth trend and the good news is 2011 seems to be shaping up just as well.

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In 2001, global economist Jim O’Neill labeled Brazil, Russia, India, and China as the premier emerging markets of the world with enormous economic potential. The mainstream BRIC acronym was applied to these countries and the hype surrounding these countries was well deserved. Over the past decade, the countries have contributed to over a third of world GDP growth. Recently, Jim O’Neill named the next tier of large emerging economies using the term MIST – or Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, and Turkey.

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The United States has long been known as a global powerhouse when it comes to innovation – especially when it comes to manufacturing. These innovations may not necessarily be products (although some certainly were) but, rather, just tweaks to the manufacturing process that greatly improved efficiency (think of interchangeable parts or the assembly line, both developed by Americans). However, in today’s global economy, the United States is losing jobs in the industrial manufacturing sector, despite still being on the forefront of innovation. Many claim that this is simply because of the lower wages required in other countries, but is that the only reason why?

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The auto industry has certainly gone through hard times these past few years, and now it is trying to rebuild itself. Part of the comeback is restructuring the companies, and finding ways to cut costs. This is often done by offshoring the manufacturing portion to countries that demand lower wages. Mexico is one of the countries that will see the benefits of this move in the next few years.

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Heineken has just announced that it will be buying the beer operations of Femsa, a large beverage company in Mexico. The beer industry has experienced several acquisitions this past decade, so this move was not exactly a surprise. Many brewing companies have done this to tap into different markets across the world.

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As the Trade North America Conference continues, it is important to understand the nuances of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which make the implementation of NAFTA’s goals possible. One of the largest barriers to getting the agreement passed, and which still creates issues today are the legal issues surrounding the agreement, as well as how it deals with the differing legal systems of each of the countries involved.

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Why should a small business enter the Canadian and Mexican market? There are a plethora of opportunities in both countries. From a United States perspective, they are the largest foreign investor in Canada and the most popular destination for Canadian investment. The U.S. exports to Canada exceed their exports to the entire European Union. Mexico isn't far behind with the second largest market in the world for U.S. exports. In 2007, U.S. and Mexico two-way trade exceeded one billion dollars a day. I will briefly discuss both the challenges, potential, and strategies for entering both the Canadian and the Mexican market.

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The Trade North America Conference, happening in Detroit this week, is a great opportunity for the Midwest regional business community to learn about today’s trade climate. Underscoring the importance of the event, Undersecretary of Commerce, Dennis Hightower and former Governor of Michigan, John Engler will be speaking. The focus of the conference is to equip businesspeople with information which will enhance their ability to successfully export products to Canada and Mexico.