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(Reuters) - The owner of Ferrocarril Mexicano (Ferromex), Mexico's largest railroad operator, is nearing a deal to acquire Florida East Coast Railway for more than $2 billion (1.59 billion pounds), including debt, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.
The potential deal shows that Ferromex's parent, Mexican mining conglomerate Grupo Mexico (GMEXICOB.MX), is now seeking to apply its railroad operating expertise to foreign assets after dominating the railway freight sector in Mexico.
The acquisition would come at a sensitive time for relations between the United States and Mexico, following a pledge by U.S. President Donald Trump to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and tighten immigration controls.
Grupo Mexico has prevailed in an auction for Florida East Coast Railway and is now negotiating final terms with the U.S. regional railroad's owner, Fortress Investment Group LLC (FIG.N), two people said.
If the negotiations are completed successfully, a deal could be announced as early as this week, the people added, asking not to be identified because the sale process is confidential.
Fortress declined to comment. Ferromex, Grupo Mexico and Florida East Coast Railway did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Grupo Mexico shares were trading down 3.5 percent at 58.08 Mexican pesos on the news late Monday afternoon, giving the company a market capitalization of around 450 billion Mexican pesos (£18.96 billion).
Based in Jacksonville, Florida East Coast Railway operates a 351-mile (565-km) freight rail system located along the east coast of Florida.
Fortress took Florida East Coast Railway private in 2007 for $3.5 billion. Fortress, an investment firm with $69.6 billion in assets under management as of the end of December, agreed last month to sell itself to Japan's SoftBank Group Corp (9984.T) for $3.3 billion.
Grupo Mexico, one of the world's largest copper producers, together with Kansas City Southern de Mexico and Ferrovalle, control more than 72 percent of the Mexican rail freight market. Grupo Mexico and Kansas City Southern de Mexico together have a 75 percent stake in Ferrovalle.
Earlier this month, Mexico's antitrust watchdog criticized Grupo Mexico and Kansas City Southern de Mexico for using their rail freight market share to fix prices, restrict supply and impede access to their networks.
Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Additional reporting by Gabriel Stargardter in Mexico City; Editing by David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker