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Overcoming obstacles


On Feb 14, China and Mexico celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations, and this provides an opportunity to think about the implications of bilateral ties, their challenges and the prospects. Trade and health assistance are two of the most important aspects of the ties.

Although Mexico diplomatically recognized the People's Republic of China in 1972, it was not until the 1990s that a trade relationship began to be consolidated, and in the last 20 years bilateral trade has grown exponentially. From 2000 to 2017, the average growth rate of Mexican exports to China was 27 percent annually, while the growth rate of imports from China was 22 percent. It is noteworthy that during the 2008-10 global financial recession, Mexican exports to China grew 37 percent annually, which shows the importance of China's economy for the rapid recovery of world trade and Mexico's foreign trade.

The main Chinese products exported to Mexico are medium and high added-value goods such as cellphones, modular circuits, memory units, data processing machines, flat screen assemblies and hybrid integrated circuits.

The main products China imports from Mexico are low-to-medium added-value products such as copper, the non-digital parts of cellphones, cathodes, vehicles and oil. The structure of bilateral trade shows high complementarity, but this could change in the near future as China's vehicle exports to Mexico have increased over the past 10 years.

Also it is noteworthy that the China Communications Construction Co's participation since 2020 in the construction of the "Maya Train", a flagship infrastructure project of the current Mexican government, can be considered as an implicit inclusion of Mexico in the Belt and Road Initiative.

Given the low level of intra-industry trade, both economies have leaned toward specialization, a situation that may result in their competition to place products in third markets. The exceptions are vehicles and data processing machines, which represent fields of opportunities to qualitatively enhance bilateral trade relations. However, the China-Mexico Free Trade Agreement has long been postponed. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement contains a so-called anti-China clause restricting Mexico from signing an FTA with China. However, this could be easily resolved if Mexico recognizes China as a market economy in the World Trade Organization.

Unlike the trade obstacles, China's health assistance to Mexico is proof that complex bilateral win-win cooperation is possible. In March 2020, China and Mexico launched the first "aerial bridge" under which China donated 100,000 face masks, 50,000 COVID-19 testing kits and five artificial respirators to Mexico, to help the Latin American country in its fight against the novel coronavirus.

In February 2021, China's health assistance to Mexico was raised to a new level with the donation of vaccines from two Chinese laboratories, CanSino and Sinovac. In fact, Mexico was the only country in the world with two Chinese-origin vaccines in its territory. By January 2022, China had donated almost 35 million doses of vaccines.

China-Mexico ties have strengthened comprehensively during the pandemic, with China's health assistance proving the solidity of their ties. When China and Mexico established diplomatic relations back in 1972, the Cold War was cementing a rigid international structure defined by ideological tensions and geopolitical frictions. Nevertheless, China-Mexico ties have managed to surpass this systemic condition and developed a path of their own.

The author is an associate professor and researcher at the Politics and Culture Department at the Metropolitan Autonomous University, and chair of the Mexican Eurasia Studies Group.