Mexico's leader to visit S'pore

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

SINGAPORE - Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto will visit Singapore in October, seeking to rev up bilateral ties amid the Latin American nation's new focus on Asia.

The country's Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade, who was in Singapore on Saturday, told The Sunday Times in an interview that the President's visit would bring a "new level of intensity to ties" and open up business opportunities.

President Pena Nieto began a six-year term last December and, signalling a passion for Asia, has already chalked up visits to China and Japan.

Last year, Mexico joined Chile, Colombo and Peru in forming the Pacific Alliance, a pro-free-trade grouping that has made it a goal to seek better ties with Asia.

Apart from Singapore, Mr Pena Nieto will also visit Indonesia, while he participates in the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to be held in Bali in October.

"This will be the first time that a president of Mexico will visit Singapore in the first year of his administration," Mr Meade said.

"The idea for him to come here so early is so that we have the time over his six years to develop a framework for a better relationship.

"We want to be closer from the bilateral perspective... and also as a way to have better access to the South-east Asian nations and the rest of Asia. We want to be closer to Singapore as a Pacific Alliance.

"With Singapore, there has always been a very good dialogue, but the political commitment that comes from a presidential visit would clearly give the relationship a new profile and a new level of intensity."

This was the substance of the conversation Mr Meade had when he met Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam on Saturday.

Mr Meade, 44, is part of Mexico's new administration that unveiled an ambitious proposal last week to allow foreign investment in the oil industry for the first time since 1960.

The ground-breaking energy revamp, coming on top of labour and education reforms, will rub off on other sectors and transform the economy, said Mr Meade.

Will this translate into opportunities for Singapore companies such as Keppel Offshore & Marine and Swiber Holdings, which are already active players in the oil-rich region?

"With energy reform, Mexico will become more attractive as a logistical platform and as a place where those enterprises that have good technology in oil, gas and generation of electricity could perform well," he said, in answer to that question.

Investment decisions by some Singapore companies are likely to be announced in the run-up to President Pena Nieto's visit, he added.

Singapore companies' investments in Mexico stand at around $1billion, and bilateral trade last year amounted to $3.6 billion.

Ms Natalie Choo, group director for Americas at IE Singapore, said that apart from the oil and gas sector, there was potential for Singapore firms in areas such as the management of ports and airports, urban transportation and water treatment plants.

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