Executive Summary

Significant reform progress in recent years
Considering Mexico’s experience with military and corporatist autocratic rule, the country has made significant progress over the last three decades with regard to electoral competition and its overall regulatory environment, including market-oriented reforms. Economic and political elites, as well as an increasing share of the middle-class, are technically well qualified, and have gained knowledge on how best to organize the country’s political, economic and social frameworks. Mexican policymakers at both the national and regional levels are often well trained, internationally experienced and regularly equipped with high-level qualifications from high-quality universities. Mexico’s tertiary-education system is increasingly competitive internationally as are several major firms, including an increasing number in the manufacturing sector.
Serious structural problems persist
At the same time, Mexico suffers from structural problems that are uncommon among many other OECD countries. These challenges mainly relate to the extremely unequal distribution of social benefits and services among the population, such as security and social opportunities. The resulting cleavages between geographic regions, especially north and south Mexico, rural and urban areas, and social classes are among the most pressing barriers to further socioeconomic progress. In addition, uneven state capacity, both geographically and across policy sectors, often undermines the effective and coherent implementation of policies.
Renegotiation of NAFTA reduces concerns
In comparison to many other OECD countries, Mexico’s GDP growth over the last decade was rather slow, the socioeconomic situation was marked by considerable inflation, the lowest tax-to-GDP ratio of any OECD country, and persistently high levels of poverty and inequality. The renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) constituted the main challenge in 2018 given the country’s dependence on U.S. markets. Doubts were reduced following the trilateral agreement reached between Mexico, the United States and Canada (USMCA) in the fall of 2018. In addition to USMCA, Mexico renewed the free trade agreement with the European Union.
Microeconomic weaknesses hamper growth
Despite these encouraging signs, the microeconomic picture is less positive. There is a lack of competition in key domestic sectors, while the labor force remains low skilled, and the economy is heavily export-oriented and tied completely to the U.S. economy.
Focus on multilateral agreements
Internationally, Mexico has been oriented toward multilateral arrangements, in economic and political terms, and is committed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement, and cooperation with international financial institutions. However, Mexico lacks the capacity and influence to promote its own global governance initiatives.
Advances are unevenly distributed
Within the last generation, Mexico has made significant progress with regard to strengthening political competition and ensuring macroeconomic stability. These major achievements were accompanied by an increase in educational attainment among economic and political elites as well as segments of the middle and lower classes. However, the benefits of economic and social modernization have been unevenly distributed, and high disparities between regions and social groups remain. In this context, the pace of economic development has been too slow in recent years. In addition, Mexico has experienced a very serious deterioration in domestic security due to failures in the rule of law, including systemic violence and corruption. In particular, the war on drugs has led to a situation of high state fragility and even state failure in several Mexican regions.
New president with
broad ambitions
In his first year in office, President Manuel Andrés López Obrador made some efforts to address the issues raised. He has initiated an ambitious government program to lead the country in his six-year term in reference to previous development steps in the so-called Fourth Transformation. Even though the components of this fourth transformation have not been explicitly stated, it can be assumed that the main focus will be on combating corruption and organized crime, reducing social inequality and poverty, as well as general reforms of the state apparatus.
Social programs
a key focus
In the economy, President López Obrador initiated social programs and raised the minimum wage, efforts to improve the social situation of the poor. Austerity measures have kept the budget and inflation under control. The most controversial measures in this realm include the cancellation of the construction of the international Mexico City Texcoco Airport and the simultaneous initiation of prestigious large-scale infrastructure projects in the poor south of Mexico, such as the Tren Maya rail project that aims to promote tourism in the region.
New anti-cartel strategy largely a failure
Concerning security matters, Manuel Andrés López Obrador is attempting to demilitarize the “war on drugs.” His approach was labelled “hugs instead of bullets.” Regarding the massive surge of violence in his first year in office, this strategy has clearly failed so far and was heavily criticized for its naivety. The creation of a national guard to improve the security situation has been controversial and widely debated, and has to be seen as part of a new anti-corruption approach. Anti-corruption and transparency is a main focus of President López Obrador.
Populist communication style
In a daily press conference broadcast live every morning at 7 a.m., President López Obrador’s addresses the Mexican public. The press conference aims to improve transparency, but is also used in a populist manner to communicate directly with the public. Additionally, institutions of horizontal accountability like the Supreme Court, the anti-corruption office SNA and the Ombudsman’s Office have been filled with affiliates of MORENA. Holding a majority in congress, this has led to criticism from the opposition that Manuel Andrés López Obrador is undermining democracy in a populist manner. However, it is too early to evaluate the outcomes of these measures.
Greene, K. (2018). Mexico’s Party System Under Stress. Journal of Democracy 29, 4, October: 31-42.
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