Juan José Guerra Abud, Mexico’s ambassador to Italy, is bullish on the strengthening bilateral ties that led to a new direct flight. Mexico now needs development that respects the environment and eradicates poverty, he tells Patrizia Marin.
June 16 marked the inaugural flight of Alitalia’s new connection between Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and Mexico City. What does this mean for your country, and for relations between Italy and Mexico in general?
The new flight’s debut is the culmination of superb collaboration between Mexican and Italian authorities, supported by the embassies of both countries in both Rome and Mexico City. Alitalia will fly three times a week, on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, and the flights are typically always full. I hope that Alitalia can count on more infrastructure so that the frequency of the flight increases further. After all, Air France flights to Mexico with an Airbus 380, the biggest airplane in the world, and Lufthansa operates two flights a day, one from Frankfurt and one from Munich. There are also flights from other European cities, including Schiphol in Amsterdam and Heathrow in London. Mexico aims to have, and soon, at least 10 to 15 flights connecting to Europe.
We very much want to deepen further the already very strong economic relations between Italy and Mexico. Italy is Mexico’s ninth-largest trading partner, and the second-largest in Latin America, while Italy is Mexico’s third-largest trading partner in the European Union. The framework agreement between Mexico and the EU assures preferential status for commerce between Italy and Mexico. To give you an idea of scale and potential, trade between Italy and Mexico reached an all-time record of $6.919.4 billion in 2014. Trade is up 269 percent since 1999 thanks to this agreement. No less than 1,797 Italian companies have set up facilities in Mexico, covering 16 industrial sectors. Most of them are in the capital, Mexico City, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí and Chihuahua. They represent some of Italy’s biggest firms, including Techint-Tenaris, Enel, Enel Green Power, Barilla, Brembo, Assicurazioni Generali, Pirelli, Ferrero, ENI, FCA Fiat-Chysler Automobiles, Saipem, Bonatti, Elica, Stevanato and Maccaferri. Italy’s foreign direct investment into Mexico from 1999 through September 2015 is up to 722.8 million dollars. As for Mexico, the main exporters of goods to Italy are Pemex, Chrysler México, Minera, Peñasquito, Akra, Polyester and Mexichem resinas.
So Alitalia should exploit this and grow more?
I certainly think so.
Are the new flights seasonal or permanent, lasting throughout the year?
The permit granted Alitalia entails keeping the flights year-round. To help increase flight frequency, Mexico is offering an airport that, while operating with maximum efficiency, but which is no longer new. While operates like any other airport with the best technology, it is nearing its capacity limit. To boost the offer Mexico is planning an airport with LEED certification. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification is the gold standard for green building, and with it we are making sure the airport respects all ecological and environmental impact parameters. There are three levels of LEED certification, silver, gold and platinum. Mexico’s current airport has a platinum certificate, making it the world’s leading and most highly-ranked airport in terms of environmental protection. Yes, it is too small and cannot grow in size as air space is quite limited. The slot times Alitalia sought were complicated as evening hours are highly trafficked – flights are arriving them from Europe, Asia and across South America. But fortunately, and thanks to the optimal diplomatic ties with the transport minister, we were able to procure the permit.
If you were to advise other flight paths, what destinations would you suggest?
I think the Mexico City market is enormous and needs a daily flight connection with Rome. That said, there are other markets with a lot to offer, including Yucatan and Cancun. The Cancun airport has huge capacity. We must invite more Italians to visit Mexico. Italy is a marvellous country and so is Mexico. In fact it is incredible that two cities as important as Mexico City and Rome didn’t already have a direct connection. Mexico has flights to the main countries of the world and Europe, but didn’t have one with Rome.
Alitalia’s new offer arrives I think at just the right moment: it sends a powerful signal at the social, political and economic level, and it is a success not only because it brings Mexico and Italy closer on the touristic, cultural, social and political planes, but also tightens the links – so my fellow ambassador friends tell me – with other countries in Central America and South America.
Will a direct flight between Rome and Mexico City change the tourism flows between the two countries?
Certainly. Tourists constitute an important part of my country’s economy. That said, we must absolutely pay close attention to the ecosystem and make sure all people respect the places they visit. Tourists must be respectful of everything that is around them. In fact, tourists not only generate economic activity in Mexico, but do so in a way that everyone ends up paying more attention to environmental issues. Precisely for that reason it is fundamental to maintain balance between tourism and protected environments – both today and above all for future generations.
Are there any concrete experiences that you can cite in this regard?
Of course. There are an infinity of protected areas in Mexico and around the world. Mexico’s particular commitment is to protect biodiversity. I can say with conviction that the current administration, led by President Peña Nieto, will assure that 18 percent of Mexico’s land surface is a protected natural areas, along with 10 percent of our territorial waters. Already there are many protected areas, some of which have been classified world heritage sites. Even deserts area protected natural areas. Take the great Altar desert, which was decreed a protected area a few years ago, and which took our national quota to 18 percent. Substantial parts of the Baja California deserts are also protected. The secret of these protected chains is that economic activities can be allowed in them as long as they respect and protect the life cycles of their native populations and those that form them.
Keep in mind that the worst thing for ecology and environmental sustainability is poverty. Safeguarding environmental matters becomes less important when people are struggling just to survive.
That’s an astute observation. One more question on tourism: I think Italians, after the British, are now the main European visitors to Mexico. Is that linked to the direct flight or is there some other reason?
There are several kinds of tourists. Some travel for economic reasons, such as entrepreneurs, business managers, technicians or academics with work to do, and some for family-related reasons, as many people in Italy have relatives in Mexico. What i notice about European tourists is that while they certainly take advantage of and enjoy our beaches and our oceans – we do have both the Pacific and the Atlantic! – they also clearly have an interest in culture. Tourists go visit archaeological sites and are intrigued by Mexico’s grand culture. The European tourist is a high-end visitor in economic, social and cultural terms, and obviously the Italians are particularly drawn to culture and nature. The favourite place for Italians is the Yucatan peninsula, where not only are there vast stretches of beach but also an enormous patrimony of culture, archeology and traditions.
What about security? It’s a big issue today. How is Mexico coping?
Mexico is like everywhere else in the world. Instability and security problems are by no means typical of Mexico alone, but are issues everywhere. The issues Mexico is dealing with today are the same ones that a country like Italy has, mainly to do with violence and delinquents. But now, Mexico’s government is making a very important effort – perhaps the greatest effort in our history – put an end to the poverty that breeds violence. The goal is that by eradicating poverty we can eradicate the vices that poverty brings with it, such as organized crime.
Let me give you a few numbers. From 1990 through 2015, so just 25 years, Mexico’s population has grown by 40 million. That’s how many more people there are today. Italy, by contrast, has 60 million residents in total. Can you imagine Italy if its population grew by 66 percent, two-thirds, in 25 years? This means that it is challenging to make sure we guarantee an education, the use of adequate infrastructures, and access to health care for all. We have to supply and enable all the conditions so that the entire population can have an average life.
In Mexico, defeating poverty is the most difficult task. That is why the president is promulgating important economic reforms that will, over time, allow the country’s economy to grow. The fact that many Italian entrepreneurs and investors have come to Mexico in recent years shows that this is working. They come because growth-boosting reforms have been made and conditions are ripe. The goal is that the reforms and those who take advantage of them will enable us to defeat poverty and its associated ills once and for all.