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Abe opens LatAm tour with Mexico energy deals

MEXICO CITY -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe struck a series of energy deals Friday with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto at the start of a five-country Latin American tour.

Abe, whose visit to the region comes on the heels of Chinese President Xi Jinping's, met Pena Nieto at the presidential palace for talks that ended with the signing of a raft of deals.

The new agreements included one between Mexican state oil firm Pemex and Japan's development bank, and another between Pemex and the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation.

With Japan on the lookout for new power sources after the Fukushima disaster forced the shutdown of its nuclear reactors, energy is high on the prime minister's agenda for the trip.

Mexico is undergoing sweeping changes in its energy sector, with Congress poised to end struggling Pemex's 75-year monopoly and open up the oil and gas sectors to foreign investment.

The two leaders, both elected in 2012, took turns praising each other for the reforms they have implemented.

Pena Nieto hailed the “bold transformations” of Abe's fiscal stimulus and monetary easing programs, while Abe drew parallels between their leadership styles, saying both saw reform as a growth strategy.

Traveling with a delegation of Japanese executives and his wife Akie, Abe received a red-carpet greeting at Mexico City airport from Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade.

Pena Nieto and first lady Angelica Rivera then threw a welcome ceremony for them at the presidential palace.

Kenko Sone, an official traveling with Abe, mentioned the “special interest” of Japanese companies in Mexico's shale gas, though he said there were no firm investment plans yet.

Sone said that it would be cheaper for Japan to import gas from Mexico than from the United states. The American gas Japan currently buys comes from the eastern United States, and must be shipped through the busy Panama Canal.

Japan is Mexico's fourth trade partner, with total trade of US$19.3 billion last year. There are some 800 Japanese companies that have investments in Mexico, especially automobile giants like Nissan, Mazda and Honda.

Abe is the first Japanese leader to visit Mexico since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2004.

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Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toast during an official luncheon at the National Palace in Mexico City, Friday, July 25. (AP)

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