UK targets Mexico in Latin American trade drive

LONDON Mon Mar 28, 2011 1:07am BST

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LONDON (Reuters) - The deputy prime minister takes a high-level delegation of company executives and government ministers to Mexico on Monday in search of business contracts to bolster a fragile economic recovery at home.

Nick Clegg, leader of the junior party in Britain's coalition government, will also meet President Felipe Calderon and address the Mexican Senate during his stay.

It would be Britain's most senior bilateral visit to Mexico in more than a decade, Clegg told Reuters in an interview ahead of the visit.

The trip is part of Britain's more determined approach to winning business in emerging markets since Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives took power last May in alliance with Clegg's Liberal Democrats.

Cameron has already led trade delegations to China, India and the Middle East, while Business Secretary Vince Cable has been to Brazil to promote British companies.

"There is a race on in the world to make sure that the big areas of growth ... are areas where Britain is part of the action. At the moment, frankly, we are not," Clegg said.

"We are not (part of the action) in Latin America, and I think that Mexico is as good a place as any to kickstart that process."

Officials note that Britain still does more business with its small neighbour Ireland than it does with Brazil, Russia, India and China combined.

In Mexico, Britain had barely a 1 percent share of the central American country's import market and lagged behind European rivals such as Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands, Clegg said.

"We would have to be hard pushed to do any worse than we are doing at the moment," he said.

Representatives from 16 British companies and four universities will accompany Clegg, including energy giants BP (BP.L) and Shell (RDSa.L), engineering groups GKN (GKN.L) and Invensys ISYS.L, and mining firm BHP Billiton (BHP.AX)(BLT.L).

Britain hopes that trade can power its faltering recovery from a deep recession at a time when cuts in public spending to reduce a budget deficit are likely to depress demand.

Last week Britain downgraded its official economic growth forecast for 2011 to 1.7 percent from 2.1 percent.