Mexico’s designate Ambassador to Hungary, David Rivas, talks to the Budapest Business Journal about first impressions, what the countries have in common and how to broaden trade and tourism links.
You have just taken over this posting. What are your first impressions?
I have a very positive impression not only of the attractiveness and the beauty of the city, but also of the dynamics of the country. Hungary, like many other countries, is passing through this complicated process of adaptation to a new world that is very different to the one that used to exist before the financial crisis. The crisis has changed many of the perceptions and pressures of what could have been the future of the economy. Maybe the challenges were already there, but we did not see them as we were very optimistic, thinking we were going to grow forever. The financial crisis has shown the limits of that model, and the challenge of how fast we can adapt to a new economy and new technologies. Also, environmental issues posed challenges and opportunities to the future development of the economy. We now have different rules, but much more realistic ones.
How do you think Hungary is keeping up with this process of adjustment?
Due to my recent arrival, I don’t think I already have a full picture. I believe Hungary will enjoy very relevant development in the future. I’m convinced that, in the coming years, those countries that prepare quality human resources – I mean, highly educated people with technical skills, innovative way of thinking, adaptability to changing environments as well as on the markets –, those are the countries ready to face the new economy. Knowledge is something that changes every day and people need to be able keep up with it. If you are a mechanical engineer who produced something related to cars, you need to be able to adapt easily to the new demands of the industry, shaped by electric vehicles for example. In that sense, Hungary and Mexico, are prepared: They have the adaptability and the flexibility that will make it easier for them to adjust to the new economic environment and market demands.
Are there any educational programs between the two countries that promote the creation of such a workforce?
In terms of official initiatives, Hungary is much more advanced at proposing to Mexico a more robust exchange of students and scholarships. One of the main challenges for Mexico is that we are located next to the largest economy of the world, which has a huge impact on our daily lives; not only in economic terms – the United States is a magnet that attracts and offers opportunities as well as challenges. It would be very easy to convince any Mexican to go and study in the States. Yet to convince them to cross the Atlantic and come to Europe is more difficult. There are two or three Mexican universities that have interesting exchange programs: They are the ones that will ensure people will come to study a wide range of subjects.
What are the common points of the two countries: what has the potential to bring the nations closer?
Both countries have strong, state-of-the-art manufacturing industries. We both produce cars and parts for the automotive industry. Hungary’s main exports to Mexico are machinery for German cars produced in Mexico. It comes from a Mexican investment made in Hungary some years ago. We import parts for the aeronautical industry from Hungary as we produce military and commercial aircraft components and avionics for the USA, as well as other manufactures. This is not the kind of manufacturing process that takes place in countries with a workforce of just basic skills or basic education. The production of such parts requires a constant supply of highly-skilled engineers. I think the common grounds between the countries is that we already play an important role in the global economy in this field of complex manufacturing process.
In what other fields are the two countries connected?
For us to appeal to Hungarian tourists is one important aim. Mexico is quite an interesting tourist destination. Our success in recent years – we are now in the top ten tourist destinations in the world – is in part due to our diversified offer. Beaches, cuisine, culture, archeology, the Maya and Aztec cultures, the music, the sounds, the colors. The main value of Mexico’s tourism is the attitude of the people – they are quite open to tourists.
It is similar to what happens when Mexican tourist come here. They may come here as part of their road trip to several European capitals but when they arrive they are surprised. Not just because of the beauty of the city, but also by the attitude of the people. Many of the capital cities look somewhat the same – different buildings but they are the same. Budapest has a personal frame, it is not hypermodern and it has kept its identity. People can discover the authenticity of a city both through its skyline and its people. Those personal experiences create the links that start to build the relations between the countries. When I am talking about tourism, I don’t only mean the question of having more visitors to Mexico. It is about discovering each other – it is something we have to work quite hard at in both countries.
Since we have similarities in terms of our roles in the global economy, we can also discover more business opportunities. This is going to be part of my job here. I am very interested to promote Mexican companies to come and discover opportunities here. Not just opportunities to sell, but to invest in Hungary. The country has a strategic location in Europe. We are not trying to go directly to compete in Germany, rather we would participate in the European market with you. The same applies to a Hungarian company: going directly to the U.S. market is not that easy; it is easier in partnership with a Mexican company.
Do you have a specific plan for what you aim to achieve?
Prior to my arrival, I have talked to a number of Mexican companies and entrepreneurs and they seemed interested in coming here. I have also talked to several state governors about them coming here (Mexico is divided into 32 states). I believe that it will be translated into real business opportunities in Mexico. A good example is a small but very high-quality winery in the state of Baja California, where some of the grapes are imported from Hungary. That’s the kind of story I am looking for. I am being realistic: If a big company wants to invest in Mexico, they don’t need us. What we can do is approach SMEs and entrepreneurs from both countries.