August 27, 2018 / 9:45 PM / 4 months ago

Mexico's next leader says NAFTA deal preserves energy 'sovereignty'

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador welcomed a deal between Mexico and the United States to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that he said preserved Mexican “sovereignty” in the energy sector.

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gestures during a news conference in Mexico City, Mexico August 24, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

The U.S.-Mexico deal was announced by U.S. President Trump on Monday, putting pressure on Canada to agree to new terms and details that were only starting to emerge. Lopez Obrador said it was important that Canada be part of the deal.

Lopez Obrador, who is scheduled to take office on Dec. 1, said Trump “understood our position” and accepted his incoming administration’s proposals on the energy sector. The text of the new agreement has not yet been made public.

“We put the emphasis on defending national sovereignty on the energy issue and it was achieved,” Lopez Obrador told reporters after arriving in the southern state of Chiapas.

“We are satisfied because our sovereignty was saved. Mexico reserves the right to reform its constitution, its energy laws, and it was established that Mexico’s oil and natural resources belong to our nation,” he said.

Lopez Obrador opposed a constitutional change pushed through by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto that opened production and exploration in the energy sector to private capital.

Mexico has already awarded more than 100 oil exploration and production contracts to private companies.

Lopez Obrador has said he would pour resources into state oil company Pemex while still respecting private sector contracts, as long as a review does not find evidence of corruption.

He is expected to slow down or stall the process of offering more contracts to private players.

Jesus Seade, Lopez Obrador’s designated chief NAFTA negotiator, participated in the latest talks between the current Mexican administration and the U.S. Trade Representative to strike the new NAFTA agreement.

Seade said on Monday that both Pena Nieto’s team and the United States had agreed to change language in a draft proposal of the NAFTA overhaul on energy that had previously been a “cut and paste” from the text of Mexico’s energy reform.

The new language still preserved the same ideas and was consistent with Pena Nieto’s reform, Seade said, adding that Lopez Obrador was not seeking to change the legal framework for private energy projects in Mexico.

While the new administration planned to increase production at Pemex, Seade told a news conference in Washington “there will be areas where cooperation with the private sector is needed.”

Reporting by Diego Ore Additional reporting by Sharay Angulo in Washington; Editing by Toni Reinhold

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