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World New Mexican ambassador offers warning to Canadian companies in Mexico

Canadian mining companies operating in Mexico should be on notice that the sector is going to face increased scrutiny on its environmental practices and treatment of Indigenous people, according to the the country’s new ambassador to Ottawa.

“President [Andres Manuel] Lopez Obrador has been very public about this, that we really want a strong, profitable mining sector - and Canadian mining companies are large investors in Mexico - but we expect them to operate in this country with exactly the same standards as they do in Canada,” Juan Jose Gomez Camacho, who was ratified as the new ambassador on Thursday, said in an interview at the foreign affairs ministry in the Mexican capital.

Some 70 per cent of foreign-owned mining companies operating in Mexico are based in Canada, according to Global Affairs Canada. In 2015, Canadian firms held assets in Mexico totalling nearly US$20-billion.

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Mr. Gomez Camacho said enforcement of Mexico’s existing laws will be increased under the government of Mr. Lopez Obrador, a leftist who has made combating corruption a key part of the plan for his six years in office, and improving the welfare of Mexico’s poor another. “One area that is very important to us, in the case of the mining industry, is that we see a stronger, more robust impact on the socio-economic development of the communities where the mines are,” the ambassador said.

Part of this process is strengthening the rule of law in Mexico, he said, and “increasing the role of the state in making sure that the standards of operation in Mexico from foreign companies in this or any other sector are sustainable. ... But it’s also a self-discipline, it’s a question of companies’ values on how they operate."

Mr. Gomez Camacho, 54, is a career diplomat who most recently was Mexico’s ambassador to the United Nations. He is fluent in English and French, and shares Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s fondness for stylish socks.

The most pressing file on Mr. Gomez Camacho’s desk when he gets to Ottawa will be the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, the text of which was completed nearly six months ago, but has yet to be ratified by the partners. The primary obstacle at this point is the U.S. Congress, where Democrats in the House of Representatives are reluctant to pass the Trump-led deal. The ambassador said Canada and Mexico are pursuing parallel strategies to lobby U.S. legislators, but that Mexico wants to see Canada’s Parliament pass the deal, too.

“We are having constant conversations between the three [countries], particularly Canada and Mexico are in constant conversation, to make sure that we consult each other and we try to be on the same page in this process,” Mr. Gomez Camacho said. “One of my most important tasks as soon as I get there is precisely to persuade ... the Canadian authorities to move forward in the ratification process. But in the end, the U.S. process and timing will define Canada’s and ours, so this is why it’s so important for us to really stay always in communication with our Canadian friends.”

While Canada and Mexico may be aligned in their approach to the trade deal, a wide gulf remains in their position on Venezuela, perhaps the second-most-pressing issue in the Americas. While Canada has taken a lead, within the Lima Group of countries, on pressing for political change in Venezuela, and immediately recognized Juan Guaido when he declared himself interim president in January, Mexico has not recognized him. Almost alone in the hemisphere, Mexico continues to call for negotiations between the government of Nicolas Maduro and the opposition led by Mr. Guaido.

“Only a politically negotiated outcome to the Venezuelan crisis can succeed - there should be no space for potential conflict because it could be very, very dangerous and very damaging,” said Mr. Gomez Camacho, who once headed the human rights division of Mexico’s foreign ministry. “So we are betting, and we will keep betting, on diplomacy. And to do that we need to continue to be a credible interlocutor to all actors in Venezuela. We see no viability in other opportunities that are not based on a political dialogue.”

Mr. Gomez Camacho said he feels it is a good time to be headed to Canada because of what he called the similarities in the political perspectives of Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Lopez Obrador, who was sworn in last Dec. 1. “There are very important similarities of vision and views between the Prime Minister and the President on social issues, environment, gender equality, migration, Indigenous issues, efficient energies” - all areas where the two countries can act as leaders, he said.

But he also hopes to do more to “even out” the triangle that is the North American relationship. Canada and Mexico, he said, “don’t know each other well enough."

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