Next world-class corridor
High up among the jagged peaks of the Sierra Madre mountain range in north-west Mexico, the world’s highest cable-stayed bridge, Puente Baluarte, was recently inaugurated. For Mexicans, however, it is much more than a Guinness World Record plaque on the wall; it represents a statement of intent. With modern infrastructure and an increasingly geo-strategic location, Mexico hopes to become a key commercial and trans-shipment hub for the region.
July 19th, 2012
Mexico holds an enviable location. It is one of a select few nations with coastlines on both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and is the geographical, economic and cultural land-bridge between North and Latin America; between the world’s largest consumer market and some of the planet’s most resource-rich nations.
Up until now, though, a mixture of impenetrable geography and a lack of interest and investment have kept the two coastlines worlds apart. With global trade shifting ever more towards the Pacific, the Mexican government has finally decided to act. But to what extent can Mexico become a trans-oceanic trade corridor?
The main Pacific to Atlantic trade corridor these days is the Panama Canal. When it was completed in 1914 it cut the journey time to the US west coast by half and today is a conduit for 144 global trade routes. However the canal today is creaking under the strain of increasing traffic and capacity demands. Nicaragua has long considered the construction of an alternative canal while in Colombia there have been recent rumours of Chinese interest in a rail project across the Darien Isthmus as another possible route.
With around 80 per cent of its exports heading to the US, Mexico has been busy diversifying its trade partners, especially since its economy plummeted severely in 2009 after the sub-prime US economic crisis. It currently has FTAs signed with over 50 countries and Mexico is looking to speed up efforts to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which it believes will add US$180bn to its exports.
Significantly, President Obama is also pushing for US participation in the TPP as a way to boost US exports to the growing Asian consumer market. The opportunity for Mexico is huge. If Mexico builds a fast and efficient coast to coast infrastructure network it could become a viable alternative to the shipment of goods between the Asian and US East Coast markets, or between European and the US West Coast markets.
“We have designed a road network, to complete what is known as the ‘vertical and transversal axes’ connecting the coasts, which allows for the adequate flow of goods from Mexican manufacturers to our harbours and on to Europe, Asia and the Americas,” stated Felipe Duarte, Undersecretary of Transport.
Indeed a network of highways is being built across Mexico cutting cargo transportation time drastically. One of these transversal axes is the highway connecting the Pacific port of Mazatlan with the Gulf Coast city of Matamoros which borders the US state of Texas. When the project is finished, the Secretariat of Communications and Transport (SCT) estimates it will reduce the journey time to around 24 hours, a saving of between eight and ten hours.
These days, Mexico has lofty ambitions. With a solid, growing economy in the trillion dollar class, it recently had a chance to boost its international standing by hosting the G20 summit at the resort of Los Cabos. It was an ideal opportunity to not only use its presidency of the group to push through items high on its agenda such as trade barrier reductions and address exchange-rate controls, but also to show off two more of Mexico’s new infrastructure additions: the refurbished Los Cabos International Airport, and the brand new Los Cabos – La Paz highway.
Projects such as these are part of the government’s multi-billion dollar infrastructure drive to not only connect Mexicans with Mexicans, but to become a trade platform between east and west, north and south. The Baluarte bridge encapsulates the new-found confidence of Mexico to penetrate what was once thought impenetrable and create a new land-bridge for global trade. The incoming government will need to show commitment to maintaining levels of investment in the sector, but the rewards could be too good to turn down.