MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday and said the two countries agreed to improve economic ties and cooperation on cyber security.
Speaking at a news conference with Netanyahu, Peña Nieto said that his country had accepted Israel’s offer to help it and the United States develop Central America.
Peña Nieto said Israel’s assistance could bolster the United States and Mexico’s efforts in the region, particularly in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He noted that Israel brings experience from carrying out development projects in Africa.
The United States and Mexico have been seeking to encourage investment in infrastructure improvements in Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle in an effort to stem migration to the United States.
Peña Nieto noted that the two nations agreed to update their free trade agreement, which was signed in 2000.
“We have agreed to establish and begin the ... negotiations to look over this agreement so that the commercial relationship between both nations intensifies and grows,” he said.
Peña Nieto said the countries will also work to bolster cooperation on cyber security: "With the experience of Israel we will avoid electronic fraud and other crimes."
Other areas of cooperation Peña Nieto mentioned would be improved include "water, entrepreneurship and agriculture."
"We have a solid, growing relationship," Peña Nieto said.
At the press conference, Netanyahu expressed "great faith" in Mexican economy, "one of the twelve greatest of the world."
Netanyahu was joined by a business delegation including representatives from communications firm AudioCodes Ltd, cyber security firm Verint Systems Inc and Mer Group, which specializes in telecommunications and cyber security.
Since the 2000 free trade agreement between the two countries, Mexico has become Israel’s second largest Latin American trading partner after Brazil.
And there has been some notable merger-and-acquisition action between the two countries. Last year, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries bought drug maker Rimsa in a $2.3 billion deal (even if it later had to take a $900 million write-down). And last month the Mexican chemical company Mexichem said it was snapping up Netafim, an Israeli drip-irrigation power, at a company value of nearly $2 billion. Still, Latin America represents only 4 percent of Israel’s international trade, according to the BBC.
Netanyahu’s trip marked the first visit to Mexico by a sitting Israeli prime minister, Peña Nieto said. At the close of their joint news conference, Netanyahu invited Peña Nieto to Jerusalem.
Netanyahu called his visit "a milestone for Mexico."
"We have an innate sympathy between our people, we are both proud of our traditions," Netanyahu said. "You have the Basilica of Guadalupe, we have the place where Jesus was born."
While economic cooperation between Israel and Mexico has been increasing, Netanyahu’s relationship with America’s southern neighbor has been rocky, to say the least. In a tweet earlier this year, Netanyahu appeared to praise U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans to build a wall on the Mexican border. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin later issued a statement apologizing for any misunderstanding.
Netanyahu is visiting Argentina, Colombia and Mexico before heading for New York, where he will address the UN General Assembly.
With reporting from Reuters
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