By David Alire Garcia
MEXICO CITY, Aug 16 (Reuters) – U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry praised the goal set out by Mexico’s incoming president to end massive gasoline and diesel imports, nearly all of which come from the United States, as a measure that will boost prosperity in its southern neighbor.
During a visit on Wednesday to the Mexican capital where he met with current officials as well as key advisers to President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Perry brushed off concerns that U.S. refiners stand to lose their biggest foreign market.
“It’s a good goal for Mexico. I tip my hat to the president-elect for having that as a goal,” said Perry, a former governor of Texas, the most prominent energy-producing and refining U.S. state. “I hope they’re successful with that transition.”
So far this year, Mexico has imported an average of 1.19 million barrels per day of fuel including gasoline and diesel, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Fuel imports now represent 60 percent of the country’s total consumption, as crude processing at Mexico’s domestic refineries has steadily declined.
Lopez Obrador, who won a landslide victory last month, in December will take office as Mexico’s first leftist president in decades.
He has repeatedly promised to end foreign gasoline imports within three years and increase domestic production of value-added fuels, pledging to revive the six existing state-owned refineries operated by national oil company Pemex, as well as build a new one.
“That’s not going to happen overnight. He knows that, we know that,” Perry told a group of reporters on Wednesday afternoon after meeting with Lopez Obrador’s designated chief of staff, Alfonso Romo, and his future energy minister Rocio Nahle.
“What I heard today was a bit of realism from both Nahle and Romo,” he added, without going into further detail.
Susan Grissom, chief analyst at the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said after Perry’s comments that the “free flow” of energy had bolstered both economies.
U.S. refiners have invested billions of dollars in Mexico since it opened its energy market. “The continuation of healthy energy trade between our countries benefits North American consumers, businesses and our collective energy security,” she said.
Perry pointed to growing South American markets as potential new buyers of U.S. refined products, noting that Venezuela’s oil output has plummeted amid a major economic crisis.
“We’re going to have more markets, most likely, than we’re going to have product,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga Editing by Marguerita Choy and Leslie Adler)