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Chairman of Cultiba: Can Public and Private Work Together?

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In the two decades since it signed NAFTA, the groundbreaking free trade agreement, Mexico has transformed into an open, outward-looking, and diversified economy, thanks in no small part to the dialogue between its public and private sectors.



NAFTA was a breakthrough agreement not only for the region but for the world, and it has established a very important precedent in every other way,” says Juan Gallardo Thurlow, Chairman of beverage and sugar giant Cultiba. For him, Mexico’s focus since the 1990s on trade liberalization has been the catalyst for the country’s rapid transformation, and critical to its success is the continued spirit of consultation between the government and the private sector.

During the NAFTA negotiations, the Mexican government approached the private sector and asked for its views and objectives. “That grew into the National Coalition of the Private Sector, with a number of enormous contributions of resources, knowledge, insights, and time from business leaders,” recalls Gallardo. Known as “the room next door” due to its proximity to the trade talks, the coalition sowed the seed of active private sector participation in Mexico’s future. “It is appearing again today,” he adds. “We have launched the Pacific Alliance, which is also a great initiative, and we are renegotiating our agreement with the European Union.” The advisory structure that exists between public and private leadership continues today. 

In February 2017, Mexico started working with the private sector to set the parameters for a renegotiation of NAFTA following U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that he wanted to rework or dismantle the deal.

The implementation of NAFTA opened the door to trade with a combined market of, at the time, more than 365 million people. Of course, not everyone was convinced that the deal would be good for business. Gallardo remembers, “Within our own private sector, the response of every one of the participants was: ‘The U.S. is big; we are small. They are rich; we are poor. They have more technology; how can we have a level playing field? This doesn’t make sense.’”


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