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Mexican Finance Minister Luis Videgaray listens at the International Economic Forum of The Americas in Montreal on Monday. He praised Mexico-Canada relations in a meeting with The Globe’s editorial board.Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Mexico's Finance Minister made a case for stronger ties with Canada in the event of a Donald Trump presidency on Tuesday, calling for freer trade and more investment as an antidote to the aggressive protectionism promised by the Republican Party's standard-bearer.

In a meeting with The Globe's editorial board, Luis Videgaray, a soft-spoken reformist with a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argued that Canada-Mexico relations were back on track after years of friction over visas, and that the countries could grow closer if Mr. Trump is elected.

The New York businessman, now the presumptive Republican nominee for president, has called Mexican migrants "rapists," vowed to scrap the North American free-trade agreement and promised to make Mexico pay for a wall across America's southern border.

Mr. Videgaray, who is meeting with Canadian business leaders in Toronto and Montreal this week, said his country would respond to such measures with greater openness to the world. That could mean a stronger relationship with Ottawa, he suggested.

"If negative sentiment towards Mexico in the U.S. prevails, we'll be looking for closer ties to other countries that are friends of Mexico," he said. "And certainly, Canada is a very good friend."

Diplomatic rapport between the North American near-neighbours has been on the rebound since the election of Justin Trudeau's Liberals last year. They said they would allow Mexican citizens to visit Canada without a visa for the first time since 2009, a move that has yet to be implemented. The pledge was warmly received anyway, and has paved the way for a three-day state visit by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto at the end of June, which will be followed by a Three Amigos summit between the leaders of the NAFTA countries on June 29.

The visa requirement, put in place to limit asylum seekers, struck a nerve in Mexico. Tourism from Mexico to Canada fell to a fourth of what it was, Mr. Videgaray said. But he insisted that relations were changing.

"It's very clear that the government wants to make the relationship with Mexico a priority," he said. "In a way, it feels like the relationship is back."

But on this trip, it has been business leaders, not politicians, leaving Mr. Videgaray most optimistic about relations between the two countries.

"There's very positive energy on doing things with Mexico," he said of his meetings with executives at the International Economic Forum of the Americas earlier this week. And no wonder: Canada and Mexico exchanged $37.8-billion worth of merchandise last year, making each the other's third-largest trading partner.

Any rapprochement with Canada will come at a time when Mexico faces the possibility of cooling relations with the United States. Mr. Videgaray remained diplomatic while speaking about Mr. Trump, but implicitly denounced his attacks.

"Some of the rhetoric around Mexico coming out of the U.S. electoral process has been quite unfortunate and misinformed, and downright unfair," he said. As for Mr. Trump's wall proposal, he said: "No, we're not paying for the wall. There's no scenario in which that would happen."

With polls showing a close race for the presidency between Mr. Trump and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Mr. Videgaray said the Mexican government is making contingency plans in case Mr. Trump takes over American foreign policy.

"We should all plan for that. And not only Mexico – the whole world should plan for that," he said.

The Mexican Finance Minister said that any disruption to NAFTA would be an occasion for more free trade, not less.

"The way we would approach it is to make Mexico even more open to other places, to more investment from other countries," he said. "I think that's the most important response, beyond any sort of retaliation or imposing our own tariffs or restricting capital flows. I don't think those are real solutions. It might actually make the problem worse."

Though he avoided commenting explicitly on the outcome of the U.S. presidential race, Mr. Videgaray made it clear he felt rueful about neglecting relations with Canada.

"Quite frankly, we should have been here more often," he said. "As Finance Minister, I got to New York a lot, but I should come here more."

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