GOP: White House foot-dragging imperils US access to Mexican energy market

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Without quick action, lawmakers and experts warned, Mexico could balk at opening up its oil industry, which has long been closed to foreign investors but presents huge opportunities for U.S. firms to explore shale gas and offshore oil deposits.

President Enrique Peña Nieto has made reforming the nationalized energy sector a priority but experts say the Obama administration needs to act by this summer on last year's Transboundary Hydrocarbons Agreement.

“I'm working on establishing as many relationships with the Mexican embassy and lawmakers there as I can. When you have someone who pushes for an agreement and works hard to do so, you need to respect that and match that,” Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) told The Hill. “It's a matter of respect.”

A State Department official testified last month that the administration would soon be sending enacting legislation over to Congress. One delay, State Department sources said, is that the administration has yet to decide whether the deal with Mexico should take the form of a treaty that needs Senate approval or a simple agreement that doesn't need to go before Congress except as a courtesy.

“Let me assure you that this will be coming in front of Congress,” Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, said last month at a House hearing on U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere. “I hope we can count on everyone's support. We hope to do that as expeditiously as possible.”

Energy experts say Mexican officials by and large fault last year's electoral calendar for the U.S. delay but are growing increasingly impatient.

Finalizing the agreement “will be seen as a very positive step forward and will encourage the process of energy reform in Mexico,” said Duncan Wood, the director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and an adviser to the Mexican government on energy reform.

“Any further delay is risky. It will send exactly the wrong message,” he said. “Those people who are opposed to opening the sector in Mexico would be able to look at this and to say, 'see, the United States all they want is access to our oil – it's not about what's good for Mexico.' ”