CERAWEEK-Mexico to accelerate fuel imports, sets date for key oil tender

NEW YORK, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Mexico will speed up the opening of its retail fuel sector by allowing private firms to import gasoline and diesel some eight months earlier than previously scheduled, President Enrique Pena Nieto told a global gathering of energy officials on Monday.

Pena Nieto, who pushed through a sweeping energy overhaul during the first couple years of his six-year term, also announced that Mexico’s highly-anticipated deep water oil auction in its untapped Gulf of Mexico territorial waters will kick off with a call for bids during the first week of December.

Despite some calls for Mexico to delay the auction due to the possibility of lackluster interest from oil companies suffering an extended oil price slump, Pena Nieto said the auction will not be delayed.

“Despite low international oil prices, the world is trusting and investing in Mexico,” Pena Nieto said in a speech at the IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston, citing other successful auctions from last year.

“This is not the time to stop. This is the time to move forward,” he said.

Pena Nieto also pushed forward the gradual opening of the country’s retail fuel sector, with private firms able to import gasoline and diesel beginning in April.

Before the energy reform was enacted, only national oil company Pemex could import fuels.

The law governing the retail opening previously stipulated that private companies would not be able to import fuels until the beginning of 2017.

“This opening to imports of third parties is a forceful action that will spur a high level of private investment,” said Pena Nieto.

The retail fuel sector opening will conclude in 2018, when gasoline and diesel prices will no longer be set by Mexico’s finance ministry.

The president also announced a tender during the second quarter for a $1.2 billion transmission power line that will extend some 372 miles (600 km) and be managed by Mexico’s national electricity company CFE.

The tender is the first of its kind to seek private partners, and will transport mostly wind and hydroelectric power from southern Mexico to the center of the country.

The energy overhaul enacted by Pena Nieto and finalized in 2014 ended the decades-long monopolies enjoyed by both national oil company Pemex and the CFE. (Writing by David Alire Garcia)