His Excellency Jaime Nualart began his term as Mexican Ambassador to Thailand in June 2016. He has since worked tirelessly to boost bilateral trade, investment and tourism, and he puts an emphasis on cultural exchanges. The ambassador outlined professional priorities and gave some interesting personal insights in a recent conversation with The BigChilli at his residence, which is beautifully decorated with paintings and sculptures by Mexican artists. At the start of the interview, he provided a brief sketch of his distinguished 35-year foreign service record.
“I was born in Mexico City, studied at the National University of Mexico and worked for the Mexican cultural sector before starting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). I have travelled extensively and had the privilege of been posted in beautiful, culturally rich countries like Thailand. I was posted to Japan in 1982 early in my diplomatic career, then India, Italy, Belgium and back to Mexico. After working in my home country for a while, I was appointed an ambassador to Egypt, then I went to India for the second time. Now I am happily in Thailand.
“The term for Mexican ambassadors is usually three or four years. India was an exception for me” said Mr Nualart, who besides his native Spanish is fluent in English, Italian and, according to him, “manages” to communicate also in French. He also learnt basic Japanese when he was posted there many years ago.
“I am the first in my family to enter government and diplomatic service. My father worked for oil companies and my mother taught at an academic institution in Mexico. At some stages of my career service, I have worked for what is now the Ministry of Culture as well as the MFA. You can see from my resume that my professional life has always been a bit of a mix between culture and diplomacy.
“I belong to a generation that believed very much in social commitments, and it was my choice to work for my country through the government positions I have held. A main focus in the international arena has been to promote Mexico as an investments destination and Mexican culture abroad,” said the ambassador. He added that he is very pleased to now be facilitating trade and cultural exchanges with Thailand, a country with which he has a long and fond relationship.
“The first time I visited Thailand was in 1983. At the time I was posted in Japan. Besides Hong Kong, which I knew from previous experiences, my first trip in Asia outside of Japan was to Thailand. I had always been very curious about the Kingdom of Siam and I wanted to see what modern-day Thailand was like. From here I went to Bali. I came back to Thailand in 2000 when I was Director-General for Cultural Affairs at the MFA. I organised an exhibition of Mexican antiquities in the National Museum here in Bangkok.
“During my two different posts or ‘avatars’ in India, I travelled very often to Thailand. I made many friends here. I have always really liked this country and I enjoy very much being here now.
“Thailand and Mexico established diplomatic relations in 1975 and bilateral relations have always been cordial and friendly since then. We have many similarities and share several common views in multilateral issues”, Mr Nualart said. “Thailand opened an embassy in Mexico City in 1978 and we opened our embassy in Bangkok in 1989. Before that, we had an honorary consul in Thailand in the person of Khunying Pornthip Narongdej, Chairperson of KPN Group, to promote business and cultural exchanges. Her son, Khun Nop, now holds that position and is very helpful and dedicated to promoting further understanding between our two countries, through culture.
The ambassador summarised his main priorities: “Political dialogue; we have a mechanism for political consultations between Mexico and Thailand, but we want to expand them to include more discussion on ways and means to increase and diversify our trade and attract more investments from Thailand to Mexico. We are very much focused on identifying new, different topics of common interest to both countries and we are working towards bringing them together.
“These key areas are food security, health policies and environmental issues, as well as those focused on strengthening our political ties. Finally, as I have said, promoting cultural and educational exchange activities is very important to us and to government officials on the Thai side as well. What I also want to achieve during my term as ambassador is to help bring about a closer dialogue between our two countries, since Thailand is Mexico’s 13th biggest international trade partner” said the ambassador, noting that trade between Mexico and Thailand amounts to more than US$6 billion per year.
“The embassy staff comprises four diplomats including myself and 10 very efficient and committed Thais who are all proficient in Spanish. When we recruit a Thai employee, one of the criteria is that he or she must speak Spanish. This is practical since it is the official Mexican language and all documents that come from Mexico are in Spanish. Our young Thai colleagues normally speak English as well, which is a big advantage for them as well as for the embassy,” said Mr Nualart. He added that at present there is no Mexican law enforcement liaison attached to the embassy.
The ambassador said his schedule is quite diverse in the sense that each day has its own challenges, but for the most part, he keeps to a certain routine. “I wake up very early in the morning and the first thing I always do is check my mail and news and see what has happened overnight. There is a 12-hour difference so morning here is late afternoon and night in Mexico. Then I go to the gym, take a bath and get ready for the office. Once there I usually review whatever is pending in the usual areas covered by any embassy – political, consular and different aspects of cooperation like science, technology, education, culture and so on.
“The embassy devotes a great deal of time to promoting business and attracting investment. We give support to Mexican companies and individuals who invest or wish to invest here and do the same for Thai investors interested in Mexico. Late in the afternoon, I come back home, and if I have time I may have a swim since in the evenings there is always an official dinner or reception to host or to attend. This is part of the job as well.
“All my business meetings are held in my office unless it is a business lunch or I pay calls on ministers, directors of institutions, entrepreneurs, company executives and so on, although sometimes these people visit us as well.
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Trade and tourism
As I mentioned before, Thailand is now our 13th largest trading partner. I want to not only increase trade but also to diversify it. What we trade in now is mostly electronic components and manufactured goods such as smart phones, automobiles and auto parts. Our exports to and imports from Thailand are mostly in the same sectors I mentioned. Therefore, my hope is to expand trade into other sectors, including energy and agriculture.
“Mexico, like Thailand, is a hub for automotive manufacturing. All the major global manufacturers have plants in Thailand, and this is true of Mexico as well. We are the seventh biggest manufacturer of cars in the world and the 4th biggest exporter. These days the manufacturing industry depends heavily on global value chains for international trade. For example, many specific models might be finalised in Thailand, but the parts may come from China, Mexico or someplace else. The largest Mexican investor in Thailand is a company called Metalsa. They manufacture chassis for trucks at a plant close to Rayong.
“One Mexican business operating here that is very interesting is a franchise called KidZania located in Siam Paragon. It is an amazing entertainment and education park for children that allow them to play the role of adults in a working environment. There is a wide variety of professions to choose from. The experience helps children to develop essential life skills such as money management, decision making and teamwork.
“As for Thai investments in Mexico, one example is Indorama which manufactures PET resins and fibres.
“For me, tourism is a very interesting aspect of bilateral relations. Nowadays all the world is reachable. Mexico is only one stopover from Thailand. You can fly from Bangkok to Paris, London or Amsterdam and then to Mexico; or from Bangkok to Tokyo, Seoul, Guangzhou, or Shanghai and then straight to Mexico. I want to increase tourism both ways. More than 15,000 Mexicans come to Thailand every year and about 2,500 Thais make the trip to Mexico. Visas are needed on both sides. We are negotiating with the Thai government to expedite the visa process.
“Mexican tourists who come to this part of the world have a problem in visiting Thailand without a visa. Mexican’s ether does not need a visa to travel to other countries in the region, or they can get a visa on arrival. This is not the case here. Many Mexicans who visit Malaysia or Indonesia, for example, think they can make a stop here but they are turned away or forced to leave when they come without a visa. This is one consular problem we are facing and in which we are working to reach a bilateral agreement on the matter. I am sure that we will sort out the problem with the Thai authorities.
“Another thing the embassy deals with is unfortunate accidents that involve Mexican natives on the roads or at the beach. Recently we assisted a lady who fell off a motorcycle, a family who were in a road accident and a man who was injured while scuba diving.
“There are about 350 Mexicans living in Thailand who are registered with the embassy. However, there might be more Mexicans who have been living in Thailand. Mexican citizens here may be entrepreneurs, restaurant owners or work for Thai, Mexican or multinational companies.”
“In the time I have been here I’ve been very active in the cultural arena as well. One event I am proud to have helped bring to Bangkok is an exhibition by a Mexican sculptor Ploma Torres, held at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. We present Mexican movies on a regular basis with the Thai Film Archive and Thai Film Festivals, with whom we have very good relationships.
“Other cultural events include a Mexican jazz singer performing at the Bangkok Jazz Festival last January and a Mexican classical violin player who performed solo with the Thai Philharmonic Orchestra at Prince Mahidol Hall. A large sculpture called ‘The Wings of Mexico’ was successfully exhibited at Lumpini Park for five months and attracted thousands of people who interacted with the art piece and took pictures and videos, participated in contests and managed to have wings in the city of angels.
“The latest cultural event sponsored by the embassy was an exhibition of works by four contemporary Mexican artists, Betsabee Romero, Alfredo de Stefano, Maria Jose de la Macorra and Enrique Rosas, held at the National Gallery in Bangkok from July 6-30. The opening of the exhibition on July 5 was attended by high-ranking Thai officials and dignitaries as well as several ambassadors and other distinguished guests.
“Another thing I want to mention is the Latin band performing at the Rembrandt Hotel. This is the only genuine Mexican band based in Thailand,” said Ambassador Nualart.
The ambassador said the weather in Bangkok is not a problem for him since it can also get quite warm in Mexico City. “But while Bangkok is usually warm most of the year, in Mexico City we have four seasons. It can be very hot and dry in the summer, usually cold in the winter and in spring and autumn the temperature is usually mild. In the north of Mexico, it can get dramatically hot or cold; in the south, the weather is similar to Thailand – warm and humid most of the time.
“What else is similar between our two countries? The traffic and the fast pace of life in Mexico City and Bangkok. Much the same as Thais, Mexicans like to eat all day. Not only breakfast, lunch and dinner, but we also eat between meals. We are also fond of our street food, like Thais. Thai food is very well known all around the world and the same is true of Mexican food.
“You can find good Mexican restaurants in many cities around the world. Mexican gastronomy has been recognised by UNESCO as part of the world’s cultural heritage. Actually, some key ingredients of contemporary Thai food came originally from Mexico, like chillies and tomatoes.
“Mexico City has at least five Thai restaurants that I know of. There are definitely more Mexican restaurants in Bangkok. About 12 ‘real’ Mexican restaurants are here and many more Tex-Mex restaurants. Mexican Corona beer is very well-known here and trendy all over the world. It is brewed and bottled in Mexico. There are also two spirits that originate from Mexico that is known over the world: one is tequila and the other is mezcal. Both are distilled from the agave plant and both are available in Thailand in liquor shops, bars and restaurants.
“Another similarity is that Thais are very family oriented as are Mexicans. Mexican families tend to get together for certain occasions and they stay close as a matter of tradition,” Ambassador Nualart said.
“Mexico City is even bigger than Bangkok. As someone pointed out to me recently, I have almost always lived in a big urban centre. I came here from New Delhi; before that, I was in Cairo. Early in my career, I was posted to Tokyo, and now I’m in Bangkok. It seems that the ‘karma’ of traffic follows me. It’s not such a problem for me here. My residence is on Wireless Road and my office is not far away, on South Sathorn Road. Being based in the centre of Bangkok is an advantage.”
Ambassador Nualart said that all in all he feels quite comfortable in Thailand, and he believes Thais will find much to like if they give Mexico a chance. “I want Thai people to become more acquainted with Mexico, visit Mexico, get to know our people. We have many things in common. We want to have more tourists and investment from Thailand in Mexico. Let’s get closer, let’s get to know each other better, let’s make more business together and let’s promote our respective cultures together.”
of H.E. Jaime Nualart
• Jaime Nualart is a Mexican diplomat who served as Ambassador of his country to India, from 2009 till March 2015 and was simultaneously accredited as Ambassador to Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
• From January 2006 to July 2009, he served as Ambassador of Mexico to Egypt while also accredited as Ambassador to Syria, Sudan and Jordan.
• Before moving to Egypt, Ambassador Nualart served from 2004-2005 as Executive Secretary of the National Council for Culture and the Arts of Mexico (Mexico’s Ministry of Culture), and as Director General for International Affairs of the same institution from 2001-2003.
• Ambassador Nualart has also held different positions at the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs such as Director General for Culture and Educational Cooperation (1998-2000), in which capacity he presided and participated in more than 100 bilateral and multilateral meetings with countries in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
• As a diplomat, he also served in various positions in Mexican embassies around the world: Belgium (1994-1995), Italy (1994-1995), India (1987-1989) and Japan (1982-1987).
• Ambassador Nualart was appointed as the first President of the Inter-American Commission for Culture in the Organization of American States OAS and Co-Chairman of the Mexican-American Garcia Robles-Fulbright Scholarship Committee, he was also Mexico’s Representative to the Cultural Committee of the European Council in Strasbourg, and in October 2005, Ambassador Nualart was elected President of UNESCO’s Cultural Commission during the 33rd General Conference in Paris, France, where the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions was adopted.
• Ambassador Nualart has received prestigious decorations from the governments of Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Portugal and Colombia.