Lopez Obrador’s Nafta Chief Intends to Keep Mexico in Agreement

(Bloomberg) -- The Harvard-educated historian and economist who’ll run Nafta negotiations for Mexico if Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wins in July said that the deal is a valuable part of the nation’s economy and she wouldn’t seek to start over fresh on work to modernize it.

Graciela Marquez, tapped by the front-runner in the polls to become economy minister if he’s elected, said Nafta has been an engine of job growth and fostered the opening of Mexico’s economy to global forces. Still, the accord hasn’t been a panacea, and Lopez Obrador wants to develop Mexico’s domestic market and reduce inequality without resorting to protectionism, she said.

Marquez, 52, a career academic, said she’s ready to negotiate with President Donald Trump’s administration if Nafta talks aren’t finished by the time Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto leaves office in December. She compared her own experience favorably with that of Ben Bernanke, who was a professor at Princeton University before joining the Federal Reserve in the early 2000s.

Lopez Obrador and his party “support the continuation of Nafta," Marquez, a professor at the Colegio de Mexico, said in an interview. "It’s very important for the well-being of Mexicans.”

A two-time presidential candidate and former mayor of Mexico City, Lopez Obrador, 64, has raised red flags for the nation’s business community based on his promises to boost social-welfare spending and his opposition to allowing private investors in industries that have traditionally been run by the state, including oil. The peso slumped when speculation grew that he could win the presidency in 2006 and 2012.

Amlo, as Lopez Obrador is known, pledges to stamp out corruption and restore security. He has consistently led or tied for the lead in polls ahead of this year’s July 1 vote and came in first with 32 percent support in a survey published this week by newspaper El Universal.

While Lopez Obrador has suggested that Mexico under his presidency would seek to become self-sufficient in food, Marquez said the nation overall needs a balance of internal production and goods imported from abroad. She dismissed concern that her candidate would hurt investors.

"We are far from being radicals, but we do believe that Mexico needs to try different approaches to develop this country that has a lot of potential," Marquez said.

Marquez would take over as minister from Ildefonso Guajardo, a member of Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party who has spent most of his career in government, including as head of the Nafta office of the Mexican Embassy in Washington in the early 1990s.

The U.S., Mexico and Canada began renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement in August at the initiative of Trump, who’s said it led U.S. companies to fire workers and move factories south of the border.

Marquez earned a doctorate in history from Harvard University, where she also took classes on economics and did her dissertation on the history of Mexico’s protectionism in the last half of the 19th and early 20th century. Since August she has been living and doing research in San Diego.

Nafta negotiations are scheduled to run through March but could go on for months or into next year as the three countries hash out differences. Marquez said that among her ideas for Nafta would be a greater focus on expanding temporary entry of Mexican workers to the U.S. She said Mexico also needs to do more to develop its south to reduce inequality and increase opportunity.

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