Mexico courting Chinese companies for $11b airport, source says

Updated: 2015-04-13 02:47

By Zheng Xin in Beijing(China Daily Latin America)

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Mexico wants to involve China in an $11 billion airport project, in an attempt to assuage Beijing's "deep disappointment" after a failed rail tender soured relations, an insider has revealed.

The North American nation is said to be seeking Chinese companies to help construct the New Mexico City International Airport, a flagship project for President Enrique Pena Nieto announced in September.

"In some levels of (China's) government there is deep disappointment and a deep lack of confidence toward Mexico," Reuters quoted a source with knowledge of the airport plan as saying. "We have to show willingness with new projects."

The new airport, which will replace the current international airport, will have six runways and serve up to 120 million passengers a year, according to the plan. Mexican authorities say it will relieve congestion in the capital and transform it into a regional hub.

Previously the city's airport group, GACM, has denied that it will court companies in China to construct the airport. Notimex, the official Mexican news agency, reported that no invitations had been extended to other companies or countries, and the preliminary work needed before the project can be opened to public bidding will not be ready until mid-2015.

Considering the magnitude of the project, the GACM has said it will take into consideration the best companies, both in terms of their capacity and technical and financial quality.

However, the Reuters source said he believes Mexico will still try to get Chinese companies involved. "The ball is in our court," he said.

Luo Renjian, a researcher for the National Development and Reform Commission's Institute of Transportation Research, said that if China gets the deal, the country could strengthen its trade cooperation with Mexico, and help its technologies gain momentum in markets home and abroad.

"Exports of China's airport construction system and technology would also help the country achieve its diplomatic and strategic purposes," he added.

It is unclear which company would be chosen for the project, while major companies that have experience in large infrastructure projects, including China CAMC Engineering Co and China Communications Construction Co, did not reply to requests for a comment.

Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying earlier said she did not know about the airport project. She added: "We have always said that we support able Chinese companies to go out and cooperate with other countries on infrastructure construction."

Daniel Avila, a senior member of the Mexican Senate's Asia-Pacific committee from the center-right National Action Party, told Reuters that any courting of China would be attempt to assuage bilateral relationships.

"This is kind of paying a favor to the Chinese companies who were denied the Mexico-Queretaro train," he said.

On Nov 4, the Mexican government announced it had sealed a deal with a Chinese-led consortium to build its first high-speed rail, linking Mexico City with the northern city of Queretaro. But just five days later Pena Nieto reversed the decision.

The Chinese government demanded that Mexico adequately compensate the Chinese companies that had bid on the proposed project.

The Mexican government said the reversal was due to concerns over the legitimacy and transparency of the bidding procedures, and to remove any doubt for senators and the public.

Pena Nieto has been seeking to redraw his nation's bilateral relationship with China since taking office in 2012. Luring investment from China would help in his mission to wean his country off a reliance on the United States market.

Data released by the Mexican government show the total foreign direct investment from China between 2000 and 2013 was $281 million.

Figures from US consultancy Rhodium Group also show that Chinese investment in Mexico has been just a small part of the total for Latin America and the Caribbean, which reached $14.4 billion in 2013.

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