WASHINGTON Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Tuesday gave an impassioned defense of free trade as Mexico waits for the United States and others to decide whether it will be allowed to join talks on a trade pact in the Asia-Pacific region.
"In this very difficult time in the world economy, the world needs more trade and not less trade," Calderon said in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a short distance from the White House. "That is why Mexico is pushing a lot to be part of the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership."
Calderon, who is not meeting with President Barack Obama on this visit, credited Mexico's participation the North American Free Trade Agreement and more than 40 other trade agreements with helping its economy grow four percent last year and create almost 600,000 net new jobs in the formal sector.
He also condemned government expropriation as a "thing of the past," in an apparent reference to the Argentine government's recent decision to nationalize the oil company YPF by stripping Spanish firm Repsol of its controlling stake, and chided Brazil for recent backsliding on free trade.
Calderon did not mention Obama in his speech, or an investigation into allegations that Walmart de Mexico had engaged in a multiyear campaign of bribing Mexican officials to build its business.
Mexico, Canada and Japan in November asked to join the United States and eight other countries in the Asia-Pacific region - Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei - in negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
None of the three countries has received an answer yet, even though the nine current participants have a goal of finishing the talks this year and are planning a 12th round of talks next month in Dallas, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk's home town.
Carol Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office, gave no timetable for a decision on whether Mexico, Japan or Canada have been judged ready "to meet the high standards and objectives of the TPP."
"While we have made progress, we and other current TPP members have additional work ahead, including further consultations on issues that have emerged through our analysis and from input from Congress and stakeholders," she said.
Myron Brilliant, senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told Calderon after his speech that Mexico has the strong support of the business community in its bid to join the TPP, which the Obama administration describes as a "21st Century" trade agreement that will go further in opening markets and raising international standards than previous trade agreements.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Jackie Frank)