Prominent Mexican businessman Ricardo B Salinas has said that Mexico is fundamental to a more prosperous North America. He said that changes taking place in the country will result in North American economies becoming more globally competitive and integrated. Mr Salinas, who is founder of local conglomerate Grupo Salinas, presented his ideas at the Aspen Institute Ideas Festival held in Aspen, Colorado in late June. The Aspen Institute is a Washington, DC-based educational and policy studies institution.

Mexico’s economy has undergone a fundamental transformation in the past two decades, according to Mr Salinas, who said that during this time, Mexico has boosted manufacturing, attracted FDI, and diversified and expanded exports. Mexico currently exports roughly $400bn-worth of products around the globe.

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Mr Salinas points to trade agreements, particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as fundamental to Mexico’s growth. “Prior to NAFTA, Mexico was a totally closed economy,” he said. “You couldn’t import anything. Everything required licenses and huge tariffs.” He went on to explain how, during the days of the post-revolutionary government, industry was created to support the domestic market. “After NAFTA, most of those industries had to be closed because they were so inefficient,” he said. “The industries we have now are very competitive worldwide.”

Today, Mexico has no tariffs or free trade with 42 countries. “Trade is a great enabler of friendship and understanding,” he said. “There’s a mutual profit in being trade partners.”

While NAFTA allows capital, information and goods to flow freely between Mexico, Canada and the US, Mr Salinas surmised that where the trade agreement fails is in its inability to allow people to freely come and go between the three countries. Most Mexicans are not seeking citizenship in the US, he said. “What they want are guest worker permits."

Mr Salinas also commented on how reforms implemented by Mexico's president, Enrique Peña Nieto, have received “enormous attention”. Those include the privatisation of Mexico’s oil and gas industry, privatisation of power generation, education reform, economic deregulation, and diminished oligopoly in the telecommunications market. “These reforms were so important that they affected the political balance of the country,” he remarked. “And the government pulled it off.”

Mr Salinas particularly sees the privatisation of the oil and gas industry and electricity sector as hugely important because of the size of these industries. “Today any company in the oil and gas sector – foreign or domestic – can participate in exploration and production,” he said. “The rules are still being worked out, but there are huge amounts of money to be made by private companies.”

Today, oil represents 33% of Mexico’s budget; it used to be 100%. “At 33%, it’s still too much,” he said.

According to Mr Salinas, legal reform remains one area that needs critical attention. “The law is viewed by many as made by the powerful,” he said. “Common people believe the powerful can get away with anything.”