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Former President of Mexico espouses international governance in age of globalization

November 09, 2017

By Jenna Wang C’19

On November 7, former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo spoke at Penn Law about the uncertain future of globalization and international political economics.

The event, titled “Revisiting the Ongoing Debate about Globalization,” was the 10th Annual Leon C. & June W. Holt Lecture in International Law. Penn Law Dean Theodore Ruger offered the opening remarks, followed by an hour-long speech by Zedillo.

Zedillo served as the President of Mexico from 1994 to 2000 and is currently a professor of law at Yale University, as well as the director of Yale’s Center for the Study of Globalization.

In his speech, Zedillo talked about the future of globalization, international trade policies, and the political relationships between the United States and the world. He expressed his support of open trade as a positive force, but said he doubted “the inevitability of continued globalization,” due to a political and economic change in the world since the 2008 global financial crisis.

“Since the financial crisis, the world has not been the same,” Zedillo said. “We have had a much slower growth in the global economy.”

Zedillo pointed out a growing trend of anti-globalization politics in the world, expanding the issue to beyond just a purely economic debate. He used Brexit as an example of shifting voter preferences against open trade, which he said could impact the future of the European Union.

International cooperation was also shown to be difficult at the institutional level, shown through the G20 summits, a conference where global leaders gather each year to discuss policies to promote stable international trade. Zedillo noted that practically every commitment taken on at the G20’s London and Pittsburgh summits was not carried out. At the Pittsburgh meeting in 2009, the G20 vowed to complete the Doha Round — trade negotiations under the umbrella of the World Trade Organization — by 2010 and to reform international economic institutions, both of which failed to happen.

“We must have better international governance if we are going to deal with the downsides of interdependence,” Zedillo said. “We cannot have our cake and eat it.”

Another challenge for international cooperation Zedillo mentioned was the scapegoating of globalization by domestic politicians. Politicians, he said, may find it easier to attack globalization rather than solve the actual root problems behind an issue. Actors concerned primarily with their own election could find a convenient narrative in blaming open economies and borders for decreasing national wages and jobs.

“The best way to win polls is to blame someone else for the problems you are facing,” Zedillo said. “If I see stagnant wages, why don’t I blame the Chinese, or the Mexicans for that matter?”

Zedillo said it was necessary to have debates about globalization in order to combat mistruths being spread about it, and carefully examine the facts. He rejected the notion that globalization was a zero-sum game and criticized President Donald Trump’s justification of backing out of global agreements because of a proclaimed prioritization of American interests.

“To our friends in the U.S. government — nobody is asking you to do international governmental philanthropy,” Zedillo said. “Act in your own interests, but recognize that we live in an interdependent world. In order to keep the benefits of that interdependence, you have to be more adaptive to the international system.”

The former Mexican president also expressed pessimism about the survival of NAFTA, which is set to undergo a fifth round of renegotiations on November 15 in Mexico City, due to the United States’ threats to withdraw from the agreement unless it is heavily amended. He criticized the sunset clause proposed by the United States, which would require NAFTA to be cancelled if it were not renegotiated every five years.

“It’s very likely that the agreement will be canceled unless the government of the U.S. reviews its objectives, but that is politically very difficult,” Zedillo said. “I really hope pragmatism and real national leaders prevail.”