Exclusive: Mexico may raise U.S. farm concerns if energy dispute bites, minister says

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico could raise concerns over potential barriers to its agriculture exports to the United States in any future negotiations over the Mexican government’s contentious energy policy, Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier said.

Mexican Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier gestures during an interview with Reuters in Mexico City, Mexico, on January 11, 2021. REUTERS/Dave Graham

Since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office in late 2018 vowing to strengthen the state’s influence over energy policy, Mexico has been at increasing odds with international investors due to measures he has overseen to achieve that goal.

U.S. lawmakers have urged outgoing President Donald Trump to pressure Lopez Obrador to respect private energy investments, and Clouthier said she was well aware of the concern the policy was causing in the United States, Mexico’s top trade partner.

If push comes to shove, Mexico would pursue a negotiated solution under the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade deal, while setting out its own concerns about aspects of U.S. trade policy, she told Reuters in an interview.

“It means we keep talking within the framework we signed, the free trade accord,” she said on Monday afternoon, ten days after she took office. “And getting into a negotiation about what bothers one side, and what bothers the other.”

Fresh trade disputes under the U.S. administration of President-elect Joe Biden could cloud the rollout of USMCA at a time North America is seeking to claw its way out of a deep economic hole left by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mexico, Clouthier said, was concerned about U.S. anti-dumping probes that could hit exports of seasonal agricultural fare. Products in question include blueberries, strawberries, cucumbers, zucchini and peppers, her ministry says.

On Tuesday, the ministry said it reserved the right to retaliate over any curbs on blueberry exports.

Mexico’s energy ministry, meanwhile, has called into question billions of dollars’ worth of investment in renewable power generation projects on the basis that the previous Mexican administration skewed the market in favor of private capital.

Power plants have had approvals held up or been prevented from connecting to the grid by decrees and regulations.

Clouthier, Lopez Obrador’s former election campaign manager, emphasized that her ministry did not set Mexico’s energy policy, and said she hoped agreement could be reached with investors without arbitration proceedings.

“In a relationship as binding as the one we have and which we’ve signed up to with USMCA, we want it to be an enduring and lasting relationship, we want things to be friendly and smooth for everyone,” said Clouthier, 56.


A member of a prominent political family with strong ties to the Mexican business community, Clouthier is regarded as an astute political operator who helped broaden Lopez Obrador’s appeal among middle-class voters during his 2018 election run.

Both foreign diplomats and corporate leaders hope her appointment will usher in a more fruitful relationship between the government and business to counteract an economic slump in Mexico that had begun before the pandemic even took hold.

Saying her ministry would be doing everything possible to create the conditions to spur more investment, Clouthier said she aimed to be “more available” to the business community, without necessarily always agreeing with it.

Asked what she would say to companies thinking of investing that were unsettled by the energy row, the minister said she was confident Mexico had plenty of broader selling points.

Clouthier expressed hope that with the entry of Democrat Biden into the White House on Jan. 20, the United States could move back from the protectionist urges it has shown under Trump.

Nevertheless, analysts and officials say Biden could lean on the Mexican government to honor its environmental commitments if, as expected, he seeks to position the United States as a leader in the fight against climate change.

Lopez Obrador has put the brakes on Mexico’s transition toward wind and solar power in his drive to strengthen debt-laden state oil firm Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and national power utility, the Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE).

Clouthier has been a noted advocate of green energy, and she said it was important to remember that the president’s Mayan Train rail project in the Yucatan Peninsula was due to draw a significant part of its power supply from renewable sources.

That, she argued, would make an important contribution to Mexico’s efforts to meet its climate commitments.

Reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Matthew Lewis