Mexico is again pressing the argument that it's entitled to more help from the industrial countries than it's currently getting. Its minister of finance, Jesus Silva Herzog, suggested this week that the chief beneficiaries of falling oil prices might share some of their good fortune with the countries on which the fall inflicts the greatest hardship. That's not an unreasonable claim, but both Mexicans and Americans need to think carefully about the kinds of help that would actually be useful. There's no point in talking about forgiving loans or granting more foreign aid. That's unrealistic. Mexico's debts are too large.
Much of the present maneuvering over debts and repayments is directed toward a series of international meetings getting under way here in Washington with the semiannual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Next month the heads of the seven leading industrial countries will gather in Tokyo for their annual summit meeting on economic strategy. In all of these discussions, Mexico will hold a prominent place as the most urgent and most difficult of the debt cases.
What Mexico needs from the industrial countries is the means for its economic growth and social improvement. That does not mean magically wiping away loans. But it does mean that the industrial countries have to keep their own markets and trade expanding steadily.
Conversely, Mexico has its own clear responsibilities. Most of its debt was created by capital flight, as wealthy Mexicans moved their money out of the country. Mexico needs the kind of stable policy that has some hope of inducing at least part of that money to return. It needs to support at home the conditions for faster growth. As it undertakes reforms, it can expect help from abroad.
The United States hs the strongest possible interest in the success of Mexico's recovery. Distress in Mexico means decline in one of this country's most important export markets. It also means additional waves of illegal immigration northward. Other than the strategic relationship with the Soviets, it's hard to think of any point of foreign policy that demands American attention more compellingly than Mexico and its debts.
The international meetings, in Washington and in Tokyo, are not likely to produce any sudden dramatic announcements. Solutions are going to have to be incremental and cooperative. Managing the debts is possible, but it is going to require more than technical skill. It is going to take a degree of real statesmanship, both in Mexico and here.