By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
In a whirlwind tour of the United States, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico last week, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono made it clear to his Mexican counterpart, Luis Videgaray, that despite the current stagnation of the trilateral renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), his government is committed to maintaining and broadening commercial and economic ties with Mexico.
Kono, who met with Videgaray on Thursday, May 24, for a closed, two-hour working lunch, after attending the G-20 conference in Buenos Aires earlier in the week, told Videgaray that, regardless of whatever regional multilateral blocs may exist, Latin America is a “key priority for Japan,” according to Toshihide Ando, deputy press secretary of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ando, who met with a small group of journalists later that day, said that one of the key topics discussed by the two ministers was the Trans-Pacific Partnership -11 (TPP-11), also known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
The TPP-11 is a proposed multinational free-trade pact between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam (and which up until January 2017, included the United States), that will create a trade zone estimated to be worth $13.7 trillion.
Ando said that both Kono and Videgaray reiterated their government’s commitment to open markets and free trade.
Kono’s one-day visit, which coincided with the 130th anniversary of the establishing of diplomatic relations between Mexico and Japan, also served reaffirm the ties of friendship and bilateral cooperation between the two countries and as a follow-up on previous bilateral high-level meetings, Ando said.
“There are nearly 1,200 Japanese companies in Mexico, and total Japanese investment in Mexico has increased by 2.5 times over the last 10 years,” Ando said.
By the same token, combined two-way trade amounted to nearly $18 billion in 2017, compared to just $7.2 billion in 2004, when a bilateral free-trade accord was signed.
“Our two countries have a long history of symmetry, equality and mutual respect,” Kono said in a formal message to Mexico regarding the anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties.
The Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation, signed in 1888 between Mexico’s then-Foreign Relations Secretary Foreign Matías Romero and Japan’s then-Foreign Minister Munemitsu Mutsu, constituted Japan’s first “equal” treaty with a foreign nation, Ando said.
There is also bilateral cooperation in the fields of education, tourism, science and technology and within multilateral forums.
Ando said that during their meeting, Kono and Videgaray also spoke about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and climate change issues.