Ecuadorian Ambassador to Mexico Leonardo Arízaga Schmegel is hell-bent on increasing his country’s bilateral relations with Mexico, especially when it comes to two-way trade.
Ever since he first arrived here back in January 2016, the 30-year career diplomat and former deputy foreign minister has made it his mission to promote binational ties in virtually every field of cooperation, including regional, multilateral, political, commercial, economic, academic, scientific, environmental, consular and cultural exchange.
And to keep the topic of his northwestern South American nation in the forefront of the minds of Mexicans nationwide, his embassy has been sponsoring a barrage of events and symposiums that showcase the commodity-focused nation in all its glory.
“Last year, we hosted more than 50 conferences on Ecuador, plus 30 cultural events, all with the aim of presenting the current reality of our country,” Arízaga Schmegel told a recent breakfast gathering of Mexican media representatives at his Colonia Polanco embassy.
“We are determined to broaden our relations with Mexico and to increase our combined commercial exchange, just so long as that surge in trade is two-sided.”
Currently, combined trade between Mexico and Ecuador (which have shared a complementary economy accord since 1998, but have no free-trade agreement) comes to about $1 billion annually, and while that amount represents a fivefold uptick compared to the comparable figure just a decade ago, the interchange is heavily weighted in Mexico’s favor.
“Basically, what we sell to Mexico is oil and agricultural products, such as quinoa seeds, cacao, dairy products and palm oil,” Arízaga Schmegel said.
“Meanwhile, the list of products Mexico sells to Ecuador covers just about everything, including a lot of manufactured and other value-added goods.”
Arízaga Schmegel made specific reference to the fact that Ecuador — a third-largest global shrimp producer, providing more than $600 million a year in sales of the crustacean to the likes of China and Vietnam and upwards of $100 million a year to the United States and Europe — is “the only country in the world that is forbidden to sell shrimp to Mexico.”
The ambassador explained that the ban on Ecuadorian shrimp was rooted in an incident several years back of what he called an unfounded allegation that a small batch of his country’s output was tainted with disease.
Not only has Quito not been able to get Mexico to reverse its policy on banning Ecuadorian shrimp, Arízaga Schmegel said, but to add insult to injury, Mexican entrepreneurs are now trying to sell Mexican shrimp in Ecuador.
The ambassador also noted that getting permits to sell agricultural products in Mexico involves a nightmarish labyrinth of red tape bureaucracy that can take months to maneuver.
But, no worries, Arízaga Schmegel will not be discouraged in his efforts to boost bilateral ties.
During the press breakfast, he stressed Quito’s unflinching solidarity with Mexico on issues such as migration, nuclear disarmament, environmental protection, sustainable development and the elimination of poverty.
He also pointed out that, in addition to coinciding are a majority of issues within the context of the United Nations, both countries are members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Latin American Integration Association (Aladi), the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Organization of Ibero-American States.
And while Mexico may maintain a trade surplus with Ecuador, Mexican companies have not been shy to invest capital in the once-debt-ridden South American nation.
In fact, according to Mexico government figures, Ecuador is currently the fifth-largest destination of Mexican capital in Latin America and the Caribbean, with nearly $1.5 billion in accumulated assets, while Ecuadorian investment in Mexico barely comes to $15 million.
“Ecuador is a relatively small country, compared to Mexico,” Arízaga Schmegel said.
“But there is a vast potential for greater commercial cooperation between our two nations.”
Arízaga Schmegel said that, like Mexico, Ecuador’s biggest trade partner is — and, certainly, will remain — the United States.
But given the current political scenario in that northern neighbor, the envoy said that it is high time for both countries to focus more on Latin American integration, which he added, will no doubt prove beneficial for all concerned.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]