April 11, 2019 / 12:12 PM / a year ago

'Confidence in Mexico': U.S. and Mexican top brass to talk business, border

MERIDA, Mexico (Reuters) - A meeting of U.S. and Mexican government and business leaders on Thursday aims to shore up investor confidence in Mexico and defuse U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats to close their shared border if illegal immigration is not halted.

FILE PHOTO: The US flag (L), and the Mexico's flag are pictured on the international border bridge Paso del Norte in between El Paso US and Ciudad Juarez in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez/File Photo

Part of regular business forum the U.S.-Mexico CEO Dialogue, the talks in Mexico coincide with renewed tensions over trade and the border after two years of uncertainty sparked by Trump’s push to rework the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

They also give Mexico an opportunity to address investor concerns about how President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has run Latin America’s No. 2 economy since taking office in December.

“We want the American investors that visit our country to go back home feeling confident about their investments here,” said Moises Kalach, a top executive in the CCE business lobby, which represented Mexico’s private sector at the NAFTA talks.

Lopez Obrador and officials including his foreign minister and energy minister, plus U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, are scheduled to attend the two-day meeting in the city of Merida.

Among investors due to attend is Larry Fink, chief executive of the world’s largest asset manager BlackRock Inc.

The leftist Lopez Obrador took power vowing to fight entrenched corruption, crime, inequality and poverty, scourges that cost Mexico billions of dollars every year.

He has said he wants to boost both private and public investment, but some of his early decisions, such as canceling a partially-built $13 billion Mexico City airport and steps to rein in the autonomy of regulatory bodies, have spooked investors.

Questions remain over the future of trade in the region because the deal agreed to replace NAFTA, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), has yet to be ratified.

U.S. Democratic politicians say Mexico must approve a new labor law to strengthen its trade unions before they approve the USMCA, and Kalach said the implications of that legislation now in the Mexican Congress would be addressed.

Time would also be given to how Mexico proposes to cope with a migrant surge which has led to Trump threatening to close the border, causing trade hold-ups at the frontier, he added.

“So as to lower the pressure on this issue, which is a real issue and an important issue,” Kalach said.

Trump said on Wednesday he would have to mobilize more of the military at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Cutting through the noise surrounding the issue of immigration, Mexico wants to ensure that the message goes out that both countries’ private sectors keep working “hand in hand”, said a Mexican official, who asked not to be named.

Mexico is also eager to drum up interests in “strategic projects” in Mexico’s southeast, and to ensure there is a good business climate in the country, the official said.

Key among the projects is the planned $8 billion construction of a new Pemex refinery on Mexico’s Gulf Coast, which American firms were recently invited to bid on.

Other schemes the government wants to pitch to investors include a rail project across popular tourist areas of the Yucatan peninsula, known as the Mayan Train, development of border areas, and an alternative new Mexico City airport.

Additional reporting by Dave Graham, Frank Jack Daniel and Sharay Angulo in Mexico City; Editing by Jacqueline Wong

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