Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, tells supporters that the supposed economic benefits of reform such as lower gasoline and electricity costs haven’t yet materialized. June 3 2018, Mexico City (photo: Lorne Matalon)
MEXICO CITY — Antonio Godinez Vera makes his living turning golden kernels of Mexican corn into a mash that becomes tortillas. People like Godinez, a small business owner with four employees, are part of a wave that powered Andrés Manuel López Obrador to the Mexican presidency when voters elected a new head of state July 1.
The campaign and its aftermath are being closely watched by U.S. energy companies that have operated in Mexico since the country’s 2014 energy reform. That reform was an opening that allowed foreign energy companies to bid on offshore blocks in the Gulf of Mexico, onshore oil and gas fields, wind and solar production and distribution and electricity generation contracts.
Rafael Avila harvests corn grown from seeds that trace their lineage to the Aztec and Maya cultures. In Mexico there’s a saying. “Sin maiz, no hay pais.” Without corn there’s no country.’ Despite that history, Mexico imports vast amounts of U.S. corn. (photo:Lorne Matalon)
MEXICO CITY — Every weekday, Antonio Godinez Vera turns imported American corn into feed for Mexican livestock. Some of that U.S. corn is also used to make tortillas, a staple of the Mexican diet. Corn is also a symbol of Mexico itself. Corn was born in Mexico 9,000 years ago. There’s even an expression here, “Sin maíz no hay pais,” meaning ‘without corn there’s no country.’ Legislation has been proposed in Mexico City to boycott U.S. corn in response to a suite of economic threats against Mexico voiced by President Donald Trump.
Corn mill owner Antonio Godinez Vera said a boycott of American corn would raise prices for Mexican consumers and damage the Mexican corn market. (photo: Lorne Matalon)
“A boycott could certainly hurt us,” Godinez told me in Spanish as the din of his corn mill echoed through a complex of machines and metal kernel grinders. Trucks laden with imported American corn sat in his lot. A boycott would also hurt U.S. corn growers from the Dakotas to the Midwest to Arizona, California and Texas. Mexico’s deputy economy minister Juan Carlos Baker told the Financial Times that negotiations are underway with Argentina and Brazil to offer them duty-free access to the Mexican market now enjoyed by U.S. growers under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). As a candidate, Trump called Nafta the “worst trade deal” ever signed in this country.
Corn imported from the U.S. is used primarily in animal feeds but market uncertainty has historically translated into elevated prices for tortillas, a staple of the Mexican diet. (photo: Lorne Matalon)
Mexican Sen. Armando Rios Piter has proposed the boycott. “Corn is from Mexico, from my country. So right now it’s an important position in nationalistic way but also in terms of trade,” he said at the door of the Senate chamber.
Corn has been cultivated in what is modern-day Mexico for nine thousand years. (photo: Lorne Matalon)