Mexicans Will Choose A New President July 1. Who Do Businesses Want?

By Jorge Valencia
Published: Friday, June 15, 2018 - 9:46am
Updated: Friday, June 15, 2018 - 7:25pm

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Instituto Nacional Electoral
The candidates at a debate for the 2018 Mexican presidential election.

Gricha Raether, a business manager living just outside Mexico City, walked up to an ATM on a recent Friday, inserted a card and punched in a 12-digit code. Moments later, the machine served him two bills for 50 Mexican Pesos — almost five U.S. dollars, at current exchange rates.

Raether was demonstrating the technology his company, Poni, the Mexican unit of New Jersey-based American Cash Exchange Inc., uses to help people receive money transfers from the U.S.: ATM machines across Mexico.

So in a period when Mexico-U.S. trade relations are quickly evolving and Mexican voters are preparing to go to polling stations July 1, does a company built on money coming from the U.S. have a preference for a new president?

The short answer: Yes.

"We depend on the banking system,” Raether said. “If there’s chaos and banks start shutting down, and the number of available ATMs in the country is reduced, then our main value could be affected.”

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on the campaign trail in Chiapas.

In other words, Raether sees a candidate whom he believes could damage the country’s economy.

The one candidate he and many business people in Mexico say would be bad for business is the one who has a commanding lead over the other three in the polls: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Lopez Obrador officially inaugurated his campaign last month across the border from El Paso, Texas. He’s been campaigning unofficially since his first run for president 12 years ago, and in some polls, he has twice as much support as the next candidate.

Previous Presidents

Many presidents have represented new chapters in the country’s history. Vicente Fox, the Mexican president elected in 2000, got along great with his contemporary, George W. Bush. In fact, at the beginning of the presidency was pushing for easier legal entry for Mexicans into the U.S., as part of a policy he liked calling “the whole enchilada.” This changed after 9/11, said Lorenzo Meyer, a political historian at the prestigious Colegio de Mexico.

"The Twin Towers incident in New York completely changed the scenario," Meyer said.

The next president, Felipe Calderon, elected in 2006, brought one major policy that’s still present: the militarized war on drug traffickers. The president elected in 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto, has stayed on that course, allowing U.S. law enforcement to work in Mexico, Meyer said.

“There is no striking difference between Peña Nieto's government and Felipe Calderon's government,” Meyer said.

Trade Diplomacy

But right now, in the world of trade diplomacy, something different is sucking the air out of the room: The new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and Mexico’s retaliatory tariffs on commodities like pork, bourbon and cheese.

"That has been the focus, and I think folks here in Washington have forgotten that there's a very important election taking place in Mexico next month," said Welles Orr, an international trade advisor with the Washington-based law firm Miller and Chevalier.

So especially now, corporations are hoping for stability, said Juan Carlos Hartasanchez with the Washington-based Albright Stonebridge Group.

“I think that most of them, they view certainty as a continuation of the policies that have existed in the past six years,” Hartasanchez said.

José Antonio Meade
José Antonio Meade after the third presidential debate.

When Hartasanchez says stability, he’s referring primarily to José Antonio Meade, the nominee from the party currently in power.

The candidate who represents the least stability is the frontrunner, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, says Hartasanchez as well as many other business leaders in Mexico. Lopez Obrador has promised to undo recent business-friendly reforms in the energy and education sectors.

For Gricha Raether from the cash-transfer company Poni, Lopez Obrador is not a good prospect. Still, polls are polls and elections are elections, and he like everyone else is waiting to see who voters choose on July 1.

“What we're preparing is we're moving forward as if everything was just same as it is now, and hoping for the best," Raether said.

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