- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2013

A senior Obama administration official voiced optimism about the growing economic relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, stressing that energy sector ties between the two nations have “enormous potential for progress.”

Assistant Secretary of State Roberta S. Jacobson told a congressional hearing Thursday that Washington’s overall approach to Latin American ties “is as much about seizing opportunities as it is about countering threats.”


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Her remarks during a hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs dovetailed with comments this week from a top Mexican official, who expressed optimism that the nation’s state-run oil monopoly, long managed as a closely held national asset, is on the verge of opening up to billions of dollars in foreign investment.

Emilio Lozoya, the newly tapped chief of the monopoly — known as Pemex — told the Financial Times that he expects Mexican lawmakers to sign off as early as this summer on landmark changes to the sector proposed by recently elected Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Pemex is already ranked seventh on the list of the world’s most productive oil producers, with sales of more than $100 billion a year. The proposed reforms could pave the way for U.S. oil companies to begin tapping that market and helping it grow.

According to Mr. Lozoya, the changes would allow the monopoly to begin working for the first time in more than 50 years with the world’s largest oil companies. Several such companies are based in Texas, just north of the border.

The potential for foreign firms to become more deeply involved in Mexico’s economic future could signal a significant shift in the narrative of crime and illegal immigration that has dominated relations between the U.S. and its southern neighbor — particularly since nearly 60,000 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico during recent years.

Mrs. Jacobson sounded a more optimistic note on the crime problem, saying that pressure put on Mexican drug cartels by Mexican and U.S. authorities “is making a difference.” But the ultimate goal, she said, is for law enforcement in both countries to coordinate to bring the violence to a more manageable level.

The proposed reforms to Mexico’s energy sector are not a sure bet.

In last November, Mr. Lozoya told The Washington Times that “the debate in some political sectors in Mexico is very critical of the idea to allow private capital to be invested” in Pemex.

At issue, said Mr. Lozoya, who at the time had not yet been tapped to head the organization, were claims by some Mexican lawmakers that “foreigners want to take away our national resources.”

It remains to be seen whether positive talk from the Obama administration will help the reforms go through.

Mrs. Jacobson said Thursday that the Western Hemisphere in general is “increasingly a global supplier of energy,” and that “companies and entrepreneurs who never focused on the region are waking up to its enormous potential.”

She also stressed the overall region’s relevance to wider trade trends in the U.S. economy. Total export of U.S. goods to nations throughout the Western Hemisphere have increased by more than $250 million over the past three years — to nearly $700 billion in 2011, she said. U.S.-Mexico trade “alone supports nearly six million U.S. jobs.”

“We are working to increase those numbers through trade-promotion agreements with Colombia and Panama,” Mrs. Jacobson said, adding that Obama administration officials are pushing to add Canada and Mexico to the proposed 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership with leading Asian economies.