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Where prospects look best

MARKET REPORT: MEXICO

Ports Maritime traffic is increasing at a rate of knots, with passenger and freight traffic rising annually by 6% and 17% respectively. However, Mexico's busiest port - so the joke goes - is Houston, Texas, which handles more Mexican cargo than any single rival in Mexico itself.

All Mexican ports will need to be upgraded and enlarged. Work in dredging, quay and jetty construction, freight handling and development of associated road and rail transportation will be called for. Broadly, Veracruz, Tampico, Altamira and Progreso are oil and cargo ports. Manzanillo, Mazatlan, Salina Cruz, Lazaro and Cardenas principally handle cargo. And Acapulco, Altamira and Cozumel are passenger ports.

There is talk of constructing a canal or upgrading the highway between Coatzacoalcos on the Atlantic coast and Salina Cruz on the Pacific, creating a link to rival the Panama Canal.

Ports are state owned and run under 50-year concessions by a national company, the Administracion Portuaria Integral (API). They are run according to private sector principles and work to five-year strategic plans. It is expected that in due course they will be privatised.

Airports In 1999, 60M passengers flew to, from or within Mexico - the ratio of domestic to international flights is roughly 40:60. Numbers have been growing at 8% every year and air freight has seen similar growth.

At peak times, Mexico City airport is fit to burst. A decision on the location of a new overspill or replacement airport is expected later this year. Options for siting the new facility are at Texcoco, close to the existing airport, or at Tizayuca, 60km north.

Tizayuca is a greenfield site that would be relatively easy to develop. It is also far enough away from the existing airport to allow it to remain open. But environmentalists are opposing the scheme vociferously. And putting the airport there would require construction of major road and rail links with Mexico City.

The Texcoco site, by contrast, is in a seismically sensitive area and will force closure of the present airport. Spanish firm Fumisa, which is operating Mexico City airport under a concession agreement, will need to spend tens of millions of pounds on keeping it operational until the replacement comes into service in around 2012 - eight new stands are needed now.

Estimates of construction costs vary widely from £3.1bn to £10bn.

New airports are also on the drawing board for Queretaro city in the state of Queretaro, and Cuernavaca in Morelos state. A new passenger terminal is to be built and extension of runways and apron carried out at Yolouca airport.

Mexico has 34 major regional airports that were privatised in three tranches, the first in 1998 and the last this year. Owner operators the Asur Group, the Pacific Group and the CentralNorthern Group each have about £45M to spend in the next two to three years.

Power Demand for electricity is growing at 7% a year and the government's immediate priority is to double power generating capacity within 10 years. An estimated £3bn a year of investment in generation and distribution is needed. State power company Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) has a budget of just £625M. Moves are being made to liberalise the power market, opening the way for private investment in construction and operation of power generating plant. There is talk of putting transmission under an operating concession. Transition to the open market may take between three and six years, believes CFE financial investment project director Eugenio Laris Alanis.

Currently, private firms are able to generate power for their own consumption and to supply electricity to CFE under a 25-30 year independent power production (IPP) agreement. CFE guarantees demand in exchange for a guaranteed best price. Under IPP contracts the producer is unable to supply third parties. Nonetheless, the rate of return on private investment in IPP is expected to be 15%.

Combined cycle gas turbines are the CFE's favoured option for new generating capacity - 25 stations are earmarked for development. Wind turbines and an experimental 40MW solar power installation are to be developed in Baja, California.

There is 'at least 2,000MW of generating infrastructure that CFE would like to shut down but can't because of growth in demand', reports Laris. Operating and maintenance expertise is called for.

Petrochemicals State owned petrochemicals giant Pemex contributes between 6% and 7% of Mexico's GDP. It extracts 3.3M barrels of oil a day and 113,000m 3a day of gas. It aims to triple production. To do so Pemex will have to find £18.75bn of investment, experts calculate.

Much existing Pemex plant is close to obsolescence; efficiency and cost effectiveness is declining and new processing technologies are needed. Offshore technologies are also in demand.

Pemex sublets drilling contracts to private firms, normally under framework agreements. It also lets operating concessions for distribution and refining - most are already let to Mexican and US consortia. Participation by foreign firms of up to 49% is allowed in transmission and storage.

However, it is difficult to get contract information out of the company. Personal contacts and registration with Pemex are a requisite for winning work.

Environment Monterrey, principal city of northern state Nuevo Leon, is in the process of re-inventing itself as a post-industrial, service economy.

Swathes of derelict heavy industrial land are earmarked for redevelopment, calling for brownfield/contaminated land remediation expertise. Monterrey has parallels across industrialised northern Mexico.

Many construction experts expect laws tackling climate change and pollution control to be tightened in the next three to five years.

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