Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mexico 'bullish on Manitoba'

Consulate here in works

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Mexico's ambassador to Canada, Francisco Suarez, wants to make sure Manitoba business people know there are going to be some exciting opportunities coming soon in Mexico.

Suarez, along with about six embassy staff, was in Winnipeg this week laying the groundwork for, among other things, a new consular office that country will be opening in Winnipeg later this year.

"We are bullish on Manitoba," Suarez said after speaking to a select group of Manitoba business people in a meeting organized by World Trade Centre Winnipeg.

Even though Canada-Mexico trade has grown in the 20 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement was put in place, Suarez believes there are many untapped opportunities yet to be explored.

Some of those opportunities have likely stalled since 2010, when the Canadian government took the controversial step to require Mexican visitors to Canada to obtain a visa.

High-level talks are now underway between the two countries toward a resolution to that scenario.

"I prefer to not comment on the record on the visa issue," Suarez said in an interview. "We are working quietly at it."

Notwithstanding that bump in the road in the bilateral relationship, Suarez said the time is right to refresh the NAFTA opportunities.

"NAFTA has aged, and now there are sexy competitors," he said, referring to European and Korean trade agreements Canada has recently signed as well as the Trans Pacific Partnership that is in negotiation. "It has to be revitalized."

Suarez reminded the Manitoba business group -- as he probably does every time he speaks to Canadian business people -- Canada does more business with Great Britain, Germany, France and Korea, with which Canada has just inked a free-trade deal.

Mexico is Canada's fifth-largest export market and the source of the third-most imports.

Mexico is even more predominant when it comes to Manitoba trade. Mexico was the fourth-largest export destination and the third-largest source of imports in 2013.

From Mexico's point of view, Suarez said a new long-term strategic vision of the Mexican economic realities will provide a good reason for more Manitoba and Canadian companies to pay more attention to Mexico.

Massive economic reform is underway right now in Mexico, centred around its national energy policy. The reforms, some of which are being debated currently in the Mexican congress, will lead to a dramatic opening up of that country's oil industry, long dominated by the state-owned oil company, Pemex.

Created in 1938, Pemex has owned all the oil production and exploration rights in Mexico. It is not being privatized, but the industry will be opened up for competition.

The same thing is happening in the electricity markets as well as telecommunication and television broadcasting.

It's going to lead to massive infrastructure investment, and while the country's GDP growth is currently at a Canadian-like level of under three per cent, he said after 2015 he expects the country will start producing annual growth of four to six per cent.

"The whole message is that we are growing less because we are putting in place significant reforms, which will affect the structure of everything," he said.

Mariette Mulaire, the CEO of WTC Winnipeg, said the presence of such a large delegation from the Mexican Embassy in Ottawa is a sign of their commitment to Winnipeg and the opening of a consulate. It will be only the second international consulate in Winnipeg.

"It is great for the city," she said. "It puts us on the map."

The new office will provide tourism information and issue visas to Manitobans planning to visit Mexico, renew passports of Mexicans living here and assist Manitoba companies that are already doing business in Mexico or are looking for opportunities to do business there.

Manitoba companies such as Palliser, Winpak and the Duha Group are already active in Mexico.

Ongoing opportunities for Manitoba agriculture commodities and equipment exist and new investments in the transportation sector in Mexico could also mean new markets for New Flyer and Motor Coach Industries buses.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2014 B4

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Updated on Friday, May 30, 2014 at 6:50 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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