In my first post, I discussed China’s efforts to build stronger economic ties with Mexico – and why Mexico should be clear-eyed about China’s motives. In my second post, I examined the current economic relationship between Mexico and China. In my third post, I explained why the economic relationship between China and Mexico has made so little progress. In this, my fourth and final post, I will look to the future and discuss how to improve the China-Mexico business relationship.
My first piece of advice is for Mexican companies to be realistic about what China wants and what China is truly prepared to do. Just because China offers itself as an alternative to Trump’s America doesn’t mean it is the right alternative, or even a good alternative. Every country has its own agenda and it would be foolish to think otherwise.
Beyond that, every Mexican company should ask itself if it is truly ready to do business with China, and every Chinese company should ask itself if it is truly ready to business with Mexico. It makes no sense to talk about strategic partnership without companies the right companies that are willing and able to profit from a reinvigorated relationship between the two countries. And in my company’s experience, there is a lot of work to be done on both sides, including the following:
- Companies must adopt corporate governance principles and incorporate due diligence into their everyday processes to ensure compliance with the other country’s laws and regulations.
- Mexican companies must make IP protection their top priority and register their copyrights, trademarks, and patents in China as soon as practicable. This advice applies whether they are directly operating in China or are merely operating in the US, Europe, or any other jurisdiction that would put them on the radar of a Chinese squatter.
- Executives must understand not just the relevant laws in the other country, but also the cultural mores and unwritten business rules – and the implications for their company. Mexican executives need to realize that they are both in charge of the Chinese operation and accountable for it. Similarly, Mexican companies should balance the obvious need to hire Chinese nationals with the need to retain personnel (probably expats) who “get” China but also understand Mexico’s business culture and are truly on the side of the Mexican company. This sort of cultural fluency is in many ways more important than language fluency.
- Mexican companies must move beyond the idea that they are direct competitors with their Chinese counterparts. Instead they should either engage in further specialization, or move up the value chain. Patents and trademarks and geographic indicators/appellations of origin can play a key role in differentiation. But being different only goes so far – if you don’t have a product Chinese consumers want, being different is irrelevant.
- Companies on both sides need the support of their respective government, as well as the counsel of qualified international lawyers. Many of the deals I see today have neither, but as the monetary value of the deals goes up, the rest will/must follow.
Almost all of the above address what private companies can do. But the Mexican government has a role, too. It needs to implement an effective economic agenda, and maintain progress toward North American integration.
An effective economic agenda involves more investment in trade intelligence and entering into trade and investment policy negotiations with China that are derived, as much as possible, from the political and ideological considerations that have characterized China’s relationship with many commodity-producing countries in our region. At the same time, Mexico needs to rise up the global value chain, and that requires investing in infrastructure, facilitating trade, and improving the quality of accreditation.
It may seem odd to talk about further North American integration against the backdrop of Trump’s rhetoric against NAFTA and against globalization. But China has long been the de facto 4th member of NAFTA and it’s silly to pretend otherwise. And given the enormously important economic ties among the NAFTA countries, a purely bilateral agreement (i.e., solely between China and Mexico or China and the US) seems increasingly unrealistic.
My company’s bottom line is that we cannot wait to see what Trump does or doesn’t do. Or for that matter, what China does or doesn’t do. China is not going to replace the US as Mexico’s largest and most important trading partner. Each Mexican company’s China strategy should be stand on its own terms. Mexican companies should expand into China because it makes sense to do so and because they think they can succeed there – not because they think China is going to replace the US as Mexico’s most important trading partner.
The above post is by Adrián Cisneros Aguilar. Adrian is the founder/CEO of Chevaya (驰亚), an Asia-Pacific internationalisation services company. Adrián has a Doctor of Laws from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and an LL.M. in International and Chinese Law from Wuhan University.