On April 26, 2017, Donald Trump, president of the United States, had a letter on his desk that ended his country's participation in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which killed any hope of a renegotiation process. Thus began the story of the so-called "black Wednesday."
In the international press, the news about the US president's intention to withdraw from the agreement ran like wildfire and the outcome seemed inevitable, but that day something happened. Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, then head of the Ministry of Economy (SE), witnessed an “extraordinary mobilization” of Mexican allies to forever change the narrative of what would be the beginning of a renegotiation on August 17, 2017.
This is what the former official remembers during the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who accepts that the recent history of the trade agreement went through several complex moments. “Towards the closing (of the negotiations), without a doubt, there were very strong hours to achieve the objectives that we brought in the process. Finally, everything is worth it and it always helps the serenity with which you always see things moving forward, ”says Ildefonso Guajardo in an interview.RELATED
On June 19, the Senate approved the Treaty between Mexico, the United States and Canada (T-MEC), an agreement that replaced NAFTA after a renegotiation.
After its publication in the Official Gazette of the Federation (DOF), at the end of last July, Mexico expects the same to happen with the T-MEC in the respective congresses of its commercial partners.
The story of the T-MEC is not over yet. However, the process has left lessons for the three countries. Guajardo Villarreal is convinced that the renegotiation that resulted in the T-MEC marks a before and after in the history of a commercial agreement.
“The difference between this moment in the negotiation (compared to the past) is that you were going against different and contrasting economic visions (…) it was necessary to find a balance,” says the economist born on April 26, 1957, in Nuevo León.
The fragility of memory
Prior to the conversation, Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal walks smiling through the halls of the St. Regis Hotel, in Mexico City. His presence does not go unnoticed, but this time he walks without the weight of the NAFTA renegotiation days and stops to talk with old acquaintances or people willing to shake his hand.
The businessmen greet him and exchange jokes and greetings in a room next to the conference hall where the Forbes Forum 2019 takes place.
However, the beginning of the conversation transforms his face and the smile of the now economic analyst disappears. His eyes focus on the questions and his gestures become hard, while the memory of the past brings back the usual negotiator in the history of the free trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico.
—How do you feel about being so loved by the business sector and recognized by your career the public sector?
– More than anything, what you do feel is that when fate put you one of the biggest challenges you could have had so far, we managed to face it with a conviction and a strength and with a definition always in favor of Mexico, and That is reflected beyond the business sector.
At the beginning, without a doubt, the most fragile thing in life is memory, but wherever I had to travel I found people thanking the effort we made as a team in the negotiation process, not only in the exit government, but also of the entree. One of the biggest challenges was to coordinate and interact with a team that was in the final process, and open participation to an elected government.
A life lesson
Today, Ildefonso collaborates in an office founded by a group of “colleagues” with whom he worked in the NAFTA negotiations, which works outside of Mexico in foreign trade.
“We have done relatively well. We have defended Mexican companies accused of dumping cases, ”says the former public official, who says he has a less pressured agenda than in the past.
The only thing that remains present in their daily lives are the lessons that the negotiator cannot forget after facing the man who holds his position as the most powerful man in the world: Donald Trump.
Contrary to what many might think, Ildefonso Guajardo confesses that worries about the future of the trilateral agreement did not take away hours of sleep and therein lies the great lesson left by the most hostile chapter he has faced in the economic relationship between Mexico and States United.
“One of the things that I promised myself, from the beginning when President Trump's tweets started towards the end of 2016, is that I was not going to allow a character who has come to the presidency of the United States in such a way disruptive, I had the power to affect my quality of life and cloud my decision making.
“And that was the healthiest decision I could have made: isolate myself from the effect of tweets and xenophobic speeches, (to) be able to concentrate on what I had to do and, above all, with the person he (Donald Trump) He designated, that he was a professional, that he was isolated from the dynamics of tweets and the foul and sudden words and that is, without a doubt, a lesson for a lifetime. It is not necessary to act in the middle of the shout or the noise, of the short-term deviation, but it is necessary to have the glance well fixed in the objective and to have the temper to maintain it ”, says Guajardo Villarreal.
The T-MEC lives crucial days in the United States Congress on the route for approval. The former economist and principal negotiator of the trade agreement believes that the risks of not being approved are reduced.
“I think there are risks established by the electoral dynamics in the United States, but, fortunately, the risk of transit without the existence of an agreement is reduced to the maximum, because, as long as there is no other treaty approved by the American Congress, I doubt that the participation of the United States in the current agreement will be eliminated, ”he says.
Three blessings for Mexico
Ildefonso Guajardo cannot keep away from observing the economy and considers that Mexico must look to the world to understand the new trends and what caused them, since it is facing an abrupt awakening at a time when the benefits of Globalization and the growth of international trade.
“Suddenly, we forgot the agents that lost with the change and that at some point made it manifest in different electoral processes at a global level and that should remind us of a comprehensive rethinking of public policy,” says Ildefonso Guajardo.
Faced with the uncertainty that Mexico and the world are experiencing regarding the international economic environment, the former federal official recalls a phrase: "Be grateful for your blessings."
Mexico has three blessings, according to Guajardo Villarreal, who do not depend on the ruling party: autonomy of the Bank of Mexico (Banxico), fiscal balance and respect for international agreements.
As for opportunities for investors, foreign trade remains the economic anchor, while the revival of the domestic consumer market by the population benefited by some government programs is another opportunity.
Ildefonso Guajardo has a black Wednesday in his career for NAFTA, but he also remembers another moment in his career. "I do not know whether to define it as cheerful, but a great moment of satisfaction is when we announce the three countries that had concluded the negotiation process," he says as the smile returns to his face and says goodbye to the tough gestures of the negotiator.
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