David Atherton
British Chamber of Commerce in Mexico (BritChaM)
Expert Contributor

100 Years of Relationship Building, Business Development

By David Atherton | Tue, 06/08/2021 - 08:50

One hundred years ago, in June 1921, four individuals – Joseph Hogarth of the United Shoe & Leather Co., Crosbie Lloyd, William Holden and John Pattinson – signed a charter to establish the Central British Chamber of Commerce in Mexico City. Among the various objectives of this new chamber, a key goal was to strengthen the relationship between Mexico and the UK, and uphold the strong reputation of British commerce. By this time there were already other British Chambers of Commerce dotted around Mexico and we can trace the beginnings of significant trade and investment as far back as 1824 with the arrival of British (Cornish, to be precise) tin miners in Real Del Monte, Hidalgo. They came to work for the Real del Monte y Pachuca Mining Company that had just been rescued from bankruptcy by English investors, who sent 120 employees and 1,500 tons of equipment, including steam engines, drills and pumps. While much has changed since those times, any glance at today’s trade between Mexico and the UK would show comparable goods exchanged – although no doubt with far more advanced technology – as integrated supply chains in the automotive and aerospace sectors are stronger than ever.

While tin may have been the natural resource that brought some of the first Brits to Mexico, it was another resource – and one which still moves the world today – that made Mexican trade more valuable still to British investors: this was, of course, the discovery of oil at the turn of the 20th century. Weetman Peerson – later known as Lord Cowdray – came across oil deposits when building a railway from the Atlantic to the Pacific under invitation from then-President Porfirio Díaz. He soon established the Mexican Eagle Petroleum Company, which became one of the leading oil companies in the country. The company was eventually nationalised under the Lazaro Cardenas administration and became part of Petroleos Mexicanos – PEMEX (although Lord Cowdray no longer owned the company at this time). Throughout this expropriation, the Chamber continued its work and functions supporting its members through more challenging times.

Today, once again, we see British companies investing in the Mexican oil and gas sector in different stages of the supply chain and increasing employment in the country, working directly with PEMEX and others, supporting Mexico in achieving its production goals for the benefit of the Mexican people. Among the better-known names participating in the 21st century Mexican oil and gas industry, bp, Shell, Cairn and Premier Oil are carrying out exploration in the Mexican Gulf. We also see the first two modernising the retail of petrol to final consumers who can now choose from a variety of options. Various other British companies support with supply chain, safety, insurance and productivity for all those working on platforms and throughout this essential sector.

Returning to the achievements of Lord Cowdray, it is impossible to mention this name without remembering the establishment of the ABC Hospital in Mexico, whose origins began in Lord Cowdray’s desire to provide better healthcare for his workers. Today, we see other Chamber members continuing to improve the quality of lives for Mexicans – with AstraZeneca generously developing and distributing the most affordable COVID-19 vaccine to lead the way out of the dark times this pandemic has forced upon so many. Members such as Unilever and Reckitt Benckiser’s brands have also been critical in the daily battle for good hygiene to prevent infection.

When the Chamber was established in 1921, less than 38% of the population had access to electricity (the coverage reported by CFE when it was founded over a decade later). It is hard to imagine such times without this necessary resource for health, safety, living standards and economic growth. It is a credit to Mexico that today, virtually every Mexican has electricity in their homes, and businesses throughout the country receive the power necessary for their industrial activity and Mexico’s economic growth. While some of the challenges facing us in this sector 100 years later are similar – guaranteeing a reliable supply of electricity as demand increases – some have changed as we have learned so much more about our planet. That is, the need for cleaner and safer energy, based on sustainability principles. In the Chamber, we are proud of the members of our Green Power Group whose companies, such as Zuma, generate renewable energy both to CFE as a result of large-scale auctions, while others produce for distributed generation, including Top Energy and Grupo Valeco. As companies such as these have joined the market, we have seen the Capex and Opex cost of solar energy decrease significantly over the last decade. We all know that renewable energies are intermittent but thanks to the work of integrated solutions companies such as Centrica, these challenges are being overcome. By harnessing national and international expertise as well as its wealth of renewable natural resources, there can be no doubt that Mexico could surpass its Nationally Determined Contribution goals and strive toward greater ambitions, much as the UK has done – just last month the British government brought forward its previous targets by 15 years to a 78 percent reduction in carbon emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2035.

Just as the tin mines required what was then huge international investment to keep up with the technological demands for economic progress, the right financing is still key to deliver on the huge initial investments required to fight climate change and improve Mexico’s infrastructure. It is in this context that the work of Chamber members such as HSBC and Barclays will continue to be crucial, together with the financing made available in London’s Square Mile – one of the major financial capitals of the world, and/or with the support of British government financial institutions.

Over the past 100 years, Mexico and our British Chamber have grown and adapted to many changes and disruptions, and we must continue to do so. The old all-male Chamber board is thankfully something of the past as gender equality and ethics become a key factor in all that we do. For the last century, our Chamber has provided uninterrupted support for its members throughout world wars, political change and even pandemics. While we continue to move forward, we must remember that unfaltering service to our members and their commitment and belief in our community is what has sustained us for a century and will maintain us for another 100 years. I wish to conclude this article by thanking each and every one of our members for their support – both of the Chamber and their belief in Mexico.

Photo by:   David Atherton