Michael Camunez has his eye on what he believes is one of the strongest and most promising markets in the world: Mexico. The president and CEO of Los Angeles-based ManattJones Global Strategies, which offers strategic advice, government relations support and business development services to companies seeking to enter or expand operations in Mexico and other Latin American markets, is advising US and international advisors to take note.
“We see a real maturation taking place,” he says. Despite being weighed down by global commodities prices, Latin America is in the midst of tremendous shifts. Political transformation has resulted in many left-leaning governments being replaced by more market-friendly ones, particularly with the increasingly apparent failure of the socialist and protectionist agendas of Venezuela and Brazil. “Countries such as Colombia, Peru, and Mexico – despite slow growth – offer outstanding investment opportunities in numerous sectors including infrastructure, energy, telecommunications and manufacturing, and producing the goods and services demanded by Latin America’s – and in some cases the world’s – middle class,” adds Mr Camunez.
Now in its 15th year in business, ManattJones has helped companies across all sectors with their expansion strategies. “We are currently advising, among many others, a publicly traded US renewable energy company with its market entry strategy into Mexico, which resulted in it competing successfully for several hundred megawatts of installed capacity in Mexico,” says Mr Camunez. ManattJones is also strategic advisor to a global engineering firm operating as project manager for Mexico City’s new international airport, which Mr Camunez says is the largest public works project in the country’s history.
Formerly assistant secretary of commerce at the International Trade Administration from 2010 to 2013, Mr Camunez played a leading role in rebalancing US economic policy toward Mexico, leading numerous trade missions and helping modernise a range of initiatives to enhance crossborder trade and investment. He was principal architect of the US-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue, which he helped the Obama administration launch in 2013. Mr Camunez is also on the board of directors of the Association of Mexican Entrepreneurs and the US-Mexico Chamber of Commerce.
“In the past two decades, Mexico has undertaken important reforms to modernise its economy and its business practices in ways that make it a much more reliable partner than in the past,” he says. “Decades of responsible macroeconomic policies have created a largely predictable and sustainable investment context that is relatively low risk. This has been reinforced by revolutionary reforms approved in 2013 affecting education, labour, banking, telecommunications and especially energy, which opened Mexico’s petroleum and electricity sectors to private foreign investment for the first time in more than 50 years.” These factors helped lead to double-digit increases in FDI in Mexico in the past three years – in 2015 alone, the country received $7.5bn, a 30% increase over 2014.
Getting the signals right
“Nevertheless, many key industries remain either heavily regulated or with a strong state presence, and like all countries, Mexico has distinct cultural attributes and business practices that can trip up the unprepared investor,” says Mr Camunez. “As a binational firm with offices in the US and Mexico, our job is to ensure that our clients recognise and correctly interpret signals to ensure their success.” The firm’s clients range from Fortune 500 companies to young start-ups over a range of sectors.
“I like to remind our clients that, despite the hostile political rhetoric we are hearing in the US, Mexico is a G14 economy on a trajectory to becoming a developed, highly competitive economy in its own right, and a strategic partner of the US,” says Mr Camunez.
Nonetheless, he always advises his clients to know their market and local partner, and to take the long-term view. “Neither Mexico nor most emerging markets are places to look to score quick wins,” says Mr Camunez. “The market fundamentals are incredible but one must be smart and informed about the approach and time horizon for success.”