Cultural Policy in Mexico: NAFTA and Beyond

1280px-flag_of_the_north_american_free_trade_agreement_standard_version-svgCultural Policy Series, Part 4 of 5

In contrast to the cultural protectionism policy established in Canada to safeguard and promote indigenous cultural products and industries, Mexico has adopted neoliberal policies and strategies that support the import of foreign cultural goods, primarily from the U.S. Citing the strength of Mexican culture and the need for economic stimulus to bring Mexico into the “First World,” the Mexican government has limited its cultural policy efforts to support for national institutes tasked with protecting and promoting the country’s history, art, and culture, and has focused its economic policy efforts on liberalization, deregulation, and privatization, especially apparent in the audiovisual sector.

According to world system theory, nation-states may be divided into three zones with varying levels of interaction. Under this model, Mexico is considered to be what Thomas McPhail (2014) calls a “semiperipheral nation” subordinate to the U.S. and subject to the flow of “technology, software, capital, knowledge, finished goods, and services” from its dominant neighbour. However, unlike Canada, which has made systematic efforts to protect its indigenous cultural values and industries from Americanization, the Mexican government—with significant criticism from the academic community and various cultural groups—has welcomed the inflow of U.S. media products, arguing that (1) Mexican culture and identity is too strong to be overwhelmed by any foreign cultural influence, and (2) the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) established in 1994 would be economically advantageous for the country, without the need for a cultural exception clause like that in place for Canada. The only cultural restrictions Mexico imposed under NAFTA were limiting the percentage of foreign investment in paid television to 49%; requiring imports to be dubbed in Spanish; establishing a quota of 30% of screen time in theatres for Mexican films (this quota has since been eliminated); and prohibiting foreign nations from owning any percentage of broadcasting stations.

In “Cultural Industries and Policy in Mexico and Canada: After 20 Years of NAFTA” (2014), Rodrigo Gomez and Argella Larroa note that economic interdependence between Canada and the U.S. and between the U.S. and Mexico has increased following NAFTA, but that marked inequalities still exist. For example, according to the United Nations Development Program’s human development index, Canada and the U.S. are ranked in 11th and 3rd place, while Mexico is ranked number 58 worldwide. It is about 7.6 million km2 smaller than the U.S. but, as of 2010, has approximately one-third of the U.S. population (112 million), making it the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. In addition, the Latin American population in the U.S. is approximately 16.3%, most of Mexican origin. The Mexican government’s support for NAFTA, established under the presidency of Carlos Salinas (1988-1994), was to “accelerate Mexico’s modernization through private investment,” which was then “expected to create a large number of jobs and improve development levels.”

Clearly, the free trade agreement has not delivered, at least to a degree that would improve Mexico’s global ranking. In the Changing Structure of Mexico: Political, Social and Economic Prospects, however, Laura Randall (2006) argues that the Mexican government’s support for NAFTA must also be considered in light of a changing value system. Rapid modernization from 1933 to 1982 resulted from an increase in legal and illegal migration and trade with the U.S., feminization of the labour force, and an expansion of the informal economy. The traditional Mexican system of values, characterized by Catholicism, nationalism (historically anti-Spain and anti-U.S.), and revolution, thus began to transform, with a greater emphasis on “tolerance, a global orientation, and democracy.”

Mexico has implemented some cultural policies to protect and promote the historical and cultural heritage of the country, primarily through the National Fine Arts Institute and the National Institute of Anthropology and History, which are overseen by the National Council for Culture and the Arts (Conaculta). Based on objectives set by Conaculta, the Mexican government has aimed to strengthen national identity, support freedom of creation, and increase access to cultural goods and services.

Following NAFTA and with the support of Mexican cultural policy, Mexico has seen a rapid increase in the audiovisual industry since 1997, with 100% growth between 1999 and 2003 largely driven by television program production. It is important to consider this growth, however, within the context of the audiovisual industry in Mexico, where private companies have “indiscriminate access to the purchase of content and signals from the U.S.” and two dominant companies—Televisa and TV Azteca, which own 98% of the total number of TV stations in the country (Jose-Carlos Lozano 2006)—are the only organizations to have increased their total revenue over those years  (Gomez and Larroa 2014).

In fact, even before NAFTA, the Mexican government was shifting to more neoliberal policies and strategies by supporting liberalization, deregulation, and privatization of the economy as a whole, and more specifically of the audiovisual industry. During the recent period of growth, employment actually declined and there was little growth for other companies in the sector. In short, growth has been confined to large media conglomerates and the economic stimulus promised by the Mexican government following NAFTA has materialized in ways that may not be as wide-spread or beneficial as expected.

See also: Cultural Protectionism in Canada (Part 1), Canadian Culture: New Policies and Approaches (Part 2), Internet Streaming and Canadian Content (Part 3), How AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead Reinforces U.S. Cultural Hegemony (Part 5)


Gomez, Rodrigo and Argella Munoz Larroa. “Cultural Industries and Policy in Mexico and Canada: After 20 Years of NAFTA.” 2014. Norteamérica, 9(2), 173-204. Web. 3 Sept. 2016.

Lozano, Jose-Carlos. “Public policies and research on cultural diversity and television in Mexico.” Sept. 2006. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 467-481. Web. 3 Sept. 2016.

McPhail, Thomas. Global Communication: Theories, Stakeholders, and Trends. 4th ed. 2002. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2014.

Randall, Laura, ed. Changing Structure of Mexico: Political, Social and Economic Prospects. Armonk, GB: Routledge, 2006. Web. 3 Sept. 2016.


© Jennifer Bertrand, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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