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Mexico enters talks on joining Pacific trade pact

Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Monday hailed his nation’s entry into talks to join a pan-Pacific trade agreement as a route to steady economic growth for decades ahead.

Calderon, hosting the G-20 summit of global leaders in Baja California, said the United States and eight other members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership had issued the invitation.

“This is great news,” enthused Calderon as President Barack Obama sat at his side. Calderon added that the invitation “implies economic growth and jobs for at least the next two decades.”

Mexico asked to join the trade talks in November. Its request was accepted ahead of those of Japan and Canada, which also seek to join.

The United States is currently negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, with Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

A Mexican trade expert, Luz Maria de la Mora, said her nation saw the trade talks as “NAFTA-plus,” referring to the 1994 trade agreement that tied together Canada, the United States and Mexico.

“This will be very positive for Mexico’s business community,” she said, adding that Mexican negotiators will need to raise their game to meet more sophisticated regulations in areas like transparency, intellectual property and labor and environmental standards.

Mexico is the second largest market for U.S. exports, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the bilateral trade supports 6 million U.S. jobs.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said that all nine member nations concurred on the invitation to Mexico. He said the Obama administration would notify Congress shortly of the move, paving the way for a 90-day consultation period on U.S. negotiating objectives.

Early signals from Capitol Hill were positive. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who is the ranking member of a Senate subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs, welcomed the move, saying that the Trans-Pacific Partnership could serve as a blueprint for “creating a hemisphere-wide free-trade zone. My hope is that Canada and Japan will soon be included in these negotiations as well.”

Mexican officials hailed the announcement as a way to enmesh the nation more firmly in trade between Asian nations and North America.

“The strategic value of belonging to the TPP lies in taking advantage of Mexico’s role as a significant player in global supply chains, both for the U.S. market and in the Asia-Pacific, the world’s most dynamic region,” Economy Secretary Bruno Ferrari said.

Ferrari, hailing accession to what he called the most important trade talks in the world, said the trade bloc represents 26 percent of global economic activity, and that among its members are nations like Australia, New Zealand and Vietnam, with whom Mexico’s trade has been growing at an annual clip of 20 percent in recent years.

The TPP talks go far beyond tariff reductions. They also delve into regional supply chains to speed production and delivery of goods, promote smaller companies and ensure that state-owned enterprises are on even footing with private companies.

Calderon said that Obama informed him of the decision during their meeting in Los Cabos, site of the G-20 summit, and that it marked “a sign of the solid relationship that the United States and Mexico have together.”

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