Mexico’s Calderon pushes for Panama trade deal
5 March 2008
PANAMA CITY, March 5 (Reuters) - Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Wednesday said Mexico was ready to talk to Panama about restarting stalled discussions on a free trade deal.
In a speech to open a regional trade exposition in Panama’s capital, Calderon said he had instructed Mexican officials to move toward resuming the discussions, which have taken place sporadically since the 1990s.
"We’re ready (to negotiate)," Calderon told businessmen.
Free trade talks have been hampered by differences over Panama’s laws against money laundering, which Mexico and other countries have criticized as not tough enough.
A trade agreement with Panama would help Mexico diversify its trade from the United States, where it sends 80 percent of its exports.
During his visit, Calderon also announced Panamanians will no longer need visas to visit Mexico.
Panama’s economy expanded 11.2 percent last year and is expected by the government to grow 9 percent in 2008.
Major Mexican firms Cemex (CMXCPO.MX: Quote, Profile, Research), a cement maker, and ICA (ICA.MX: Quote, Profile, Research), a construction company, are already present in Panama.
Telecommunications firm Claro, controlled by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, is in the running to operate a new mobile phone network. (Reporting by Andrew Beatty; Editing by Xavier Briand)