MEXICO CITY, Mexico – The United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce is holding its annual bi-national conference in Mexico City to coincide with the inauguration of Enrique Enrique Peña Nieto as Mexican president.

The group, otherwise known as Cámara de Comercio México-Estados Unidos, kicked off the conference with a well-attended Awards Gala Dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel on Thursday evening. The conference is taking place today.

With the Chamber growing in size and prestige, the gala was over-subscribed. Awards were presented to Sec. Bruno Ferrari, Mexico’s outgoing secretary of the economy and Sec. Gloria Guevara, Mexico’s outgoing secretary of tourism. Special recognition went to Antonio Cuellar Salas, of Cuellar Salas & Cuellar Steffan. The welcome was made by Anthony Wayne, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

The event was moderated by Albert C. Zapanta, president and CEO of the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce. Zapanta warmly greeted guests and members alike and pointed out the close working relationship the Chamber has with leaders in both the U.S. and Mexican governments.

USMCOC President and CEO Al Zapanta speaks at the group's gala at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mexico City on Thursday, Nov. 29. (Photo: RGG/Jorge Tumoine González)
USMCOC President and CEO Al Zapanta speaks at the group’s gala at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mexico City on Thursday, Nov. 29. (Photo: RGG/Jorge Tumoine González)

It was announced earlier in the day that Mexican President Felipe Calderón, whose term of office ends today, will begin a teaching fellowship at Harvard University. Calderón’s leadership of Mexico was praised by Chamber members.

Joining Zapanta in Mexico City were leaders of the U.S.-Mexico Chamber from many parts of the United States, including Alejandro C. Ramos, executive regional director for the northeast. He operates out of New York. Gerardo Funes, a management consultant to the Chamber who is based in Washington, D.C., was also present.

In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Sec. Ferrari noted that Mexico has had outstanding growth since the international economic crisis of 2009, recording growth as high as five per cent per year. “None of the past five years has seen growth dip below three percent,” Ferrari said.

Ferrari explained why Mexico is doing well. He said the country has had 15 years of experience dealing with difficult times and that things are being managed well at the corporate level. “There is good cooperation between the public and private sectors,” he said.

Ferrari particularly emphasized the great trading relationship his country has with the United States and expects that will continue under the leadership of the incoming administration. He said Mexico was poised to take an international leadership role in the world economy and has developed close relationships with many countries. He added that Mexico, like the rest of the world, is faced with many challenges including education. “But, we have seen the expansion of the middle class all across Mexico during the past six years,” Ferrari said.

Ferrari acknowledged Mexico continues to deal with its reputation as a “Narco State” but said the country has come to terms with it head on. “It is getting better and we believe it will continue to become better–especially in the northern part of Mexico but all over Mexico. Improvements have been made,” Ferrari said.

As for tourism, Secretary Guevara said she was pleased to note tourism to Mexico has “broken all records” for the past two years consecutive years. “We will continue to gain ground as more people understand that Mexico is safe for tourists,” Guevara said.

Guevara noted that more U.S. citizens are coming back to Mexico but a great deal of the growth has been from Canada and Europe as well as the eastern part of the world.

“Mexico is a very good place to visit with its variety of recreational and historic sites to visit,” Guevara said. “Tourism remains a vital and vibrant part of the growth of Mexico’s overall economy. I am hopeful that the new administration will remain on course with what has been accomplished in Mexico to date,” Guevara said, in another exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian.

One example of the broad appeal of the conference could be seen by the attendance of Harvey Scott of Utah. Scott said he was previously based in San Cristobal de las Casas, te capital of Chiapas, Mexico. “I have been looking for opportunities to help one of the poorer states of Mexico with its infrastructure needs from a technology standpoint and looking at agricultural opportunities as well,” Scott told the Guardian. He explained that Utah has a large number of Latinos in his state…including Mexicans, and South and Central Americans. Scott said he was looking forward to the conference on Friday to learn and develop even stronger relationships.

Friday’s conference has a number of topics that have whetted the appetite of Chamber members, including a forecast of Mexico’s economic prospects in 2013. The panel for this subject includes Gabriel Lozano, chief Mexico economist for JP Morgan, Ricardo Haneine, partner and vice president for AT Kearney, and Felix Boni, director of analysis for HR Ratings de Mexico.

Mexico’s labor reforms and the implications for U.S. and Mexico employers is also slated to be discussed. The panel is expected to include Sen. Javier Lozano, secretary of the Labor Commission in the Mexico Senate, Jorge Davila, presidente of CONCANACO, Oscar de la Vega, manager shareholder of Littler, and Mónica Flores, Manpower’s regional director for Mexico, Central America and Dominican Republic.

The keynote speech on Friday lunchtime is set to be given by Eric Rojo, coordinator of the security program at the Center for Dialogue and Analysis on North America. Rojo will give his analysis of a new president and new Congress in Mexico.

The four members of Congress that are officially representing the U.S. House at the presidential inauguration are due to be honored at a dinner hosted by the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce on Friday evening. The four are Congressmen Henry Cuellar, Pete Sessions, and Michael McCaul, all of Texas, and Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado. The keynote speaker at the dinner will be Ildefonso Guajardo, economic policy coordinator for Enrique Peña Nieto’s transition team.

On Saturday, the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce will host a breakfast where Ambassador Wayne will welcome Congressman Sessions, the head of the House delegation. This will also be held at the Four Seasons.

Later on Saturday, invited members of the U.S.-Mexico Chamber, including Zapanta, will drive to the Palacio National for the inauguration. This will take place between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday. Peña Nieto’s inaugural luncheon as president will take place at the Castillo de Chapultepec at 2:30 p.m.

A dinner honoring the U.S. Congressional Delegation will be hosted by the U.S.-Mexico Chamber at Hacienda Los Morales between 7 and 9:30 p.m. Sen. Ninfa Salinas Sada, chair of the Environmental Commission and member of the Foreign Affairs-North America Commission in Mexico’s Senate is slated to speak at the event.