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Mexico may open energy resources

MEXICO CITY — President Enrique Peña Nieto, pushing one of the most sweeping economic overhauls in Mexico in the past two decades, proposed Monday to open his country’s historically closed energy industry to foreign investment.

The president’s plan, which would rewrite two amendments to the Constitution, challenges a bedrock assumption of Mexico’s national identity — its total sovereignty over its energy resources — by inviting private companies to explore and pump for oil and natural gas.

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Peña Nieto’s goal, like those of presidents before him, is to recharge Mexico’s economy — the nation’s economic growth has averaged less than 2 percent a year since 2000, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — by tackling areas that analysts agree hinder the nation’s expansion. Perhaps the worst of those is the creaky energy sector. Already, Mexico must import almost half its gasoline — mostly from the United States. Mexican companies pay 25 percent more for electricity than their competitors in other countries, the government says. Although Mexico has some of the world’s largest reserves of shale gas, it imports one-third of its natural gas.

In advancing the plan, Peña Nieto is making a gamble that the support he has built with opposition parties to make deep-seated changes in education and telecommunications policy will carry over into the debate over energy and a related tax reform.

The proposal would allow private companies to negotiate profit-sharing contracts with the government to drill for oil and gas. Under such a scheme, the reserves will continue to belong to the Mexican state, but investors will get a share of the profits.

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