Last week, US president-elect Donald Trump touted a deal to save 800 jobs at a Carrier manufacturing plant in Indiana that were slated to move to Mexico. On Wednesday, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto trumped that announcement with one of his own.
Retailing behemoth Wal-Mart is creating 10,000 new jobs in Mexico through a $1.3 billion investment to bulk up its logistics operations in the country. Trump travelled to Indianapolis to trumpet his achievement; a coterie of Wal-Mart executives, employees, and suppliers visited Peña Nieto at his official residence to hear the good news at a Dec. 7 ceremony that was also aired on YouTube.
There were congratulatory speeches, along with renditions of the Mexican national anthem and the “Wal-Mart de México cheer,” a boisterous give-me-a-letter corporate chant that seemed out of place against the backdrop of Mexico’s golden national seal.
Such is the state of international relations between the US and Mexico in the aftermath of Trump’s victory. The PR stunt is emerging as a choice communication device in both countries to bolster policies internally and to hurl messages across the border. The Carrier deal appears to have worked for Trump: 60% of voters viewed the president-elect more favorably after the announcement, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll. Peña Nieto, whose approval ratings are dismal, could use a similar boost.
During Wednesday’s ceremony, Peña Nieto and others in his administration presented Wal-Mart as a shining example of the benefits of international trade, and as evidence of Mexico’s compelling business conditions. “For those who doubt today of what we are capable of achieving with free trade, I invite you to go through one of the aisles at a Wal-Mart,” said Economy secretary Ildefonso Guajardo.
The announcement, the president said, “adds to many others that attest to the confidence in our country and to the promising and encouraging future that Mexico is projecting to the world.”
To be sure, Wal-Mart’s expansion plans are a hefty vote of confidence in Mexico’s economy. But as with the Carrier plan, there story is much more complicated than the simple symbol of Mexican economic triumph Peña Nieto is peddling.
Wal-Mart wasn’t going anywhere. It has more than 2,000 stores in Mexico and already employs some 200,000 people. It does big business in the country, and has for years. And like Mexico itself, the company is in need of some good PR. In the past few years, it has been under investigation by Mexican and US authorities for allegedly paying bribes to Mexican officials to speed up permitting for new stores.
Peña Nieto’s arrangement and participation in Wal-Mart’s announcement at the Mexican presidential residence mixes politics and corporate decision-making in a way that should make many uncomfortable—especially in Mexico, where government dealings are decidedly more opaque than in the US.