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SOLANA  IS  BUILDING  RELATIONSHIPS WITH LATIN AMERICA

President Fox visits European cities

Mexican President Vicente Fox undertook an international tour in Brussels, Strasbourg, Madrid, and Valencia, from May 14 through 18, to encourage and strengthen trade, exchanges in co-operation, and political dialogue with the countries and institutions of the European Union and the Council of Europe.

One aim of the tour was to seek agreement on issues central to the international agenda. In addition, the intention was to promote and publicize opportunities for trade and the encouragement of co-operation arising from the Economic Partnership, Political Co-ordination and Co-operation Agreement between the European Union and Mexico. It also gave Mexico the opportunity to show its commitment to strengthening the strategic bilateral relationship between Latin America and the Caribbean and the European Union.

Kingdom of Belgium. In the framework of his official working visit to the Kingdom of Belgium, President Fox met HRH Prince Philippe of Belgium, with whom he exchanged viewpoints on the need to strengthen ties of friendship and co-operation by way of political dialogue. Prince Philippe, who has visited Mexico with a group of businessmen, told President Fox he is interested in promoting greater investment and trade between the two countries. He also said that he is planning a second trip to Mexico.

Belgium is Mexicos seventh largest trading partner in the European Union and its 19th in the world. In 2001, trade between Mexico and Belgium amounted to $ 948.7 million dollars, and since the free-trade agreement with the EU came into force, bilateral trade has grown by 36.9%.

President Fox also met Senate President Armand De Decker. They discussed recent developments in Mexico and the importance of strengthening Mexican and Belgian political relations. Mr. De Decker recalled his last visit to Mexico and acknowledged the progress made during President Foxs administration.

France. President Fox went to the European Parliament and Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where he met the President of the Council of Europes Parliamentary Assembly, Peter Shieder, the Secretary General of this European institution, Walter Schwimmer and the European Parliament President, Pat Cox. This was the first time a Latin American president has addressed the plenary session of the European Parliament, the European Unions highest body for democratic expression and one that brings together the different political trends of the EUs member states.

The Council of Europe is an inter-governmental institution that brings together the 44 states of Europe. Since 1999 Mexico has been the fourth permanent observer of the Council of Europe along with the other three observer countries, the United States, Canada, and Japan. With Canada and Israel Mexico is also an observer of its Parliamentary Assembly.

President Fox in the address to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, underscore the importance of spreading, promoting and strengthening democracy and respect for human rights. He said that without equality, there can be no true development, without respect for human rights there is no authentic democracy. Therefore, the promotion and defense of human rights, democracy and shared development are central issues of current Mexican concern, not only in internal circles but also in the external.

During his speech, before a plenary session of the European Parliament, Mexicos leader highlighted his Governments firm commitment to working together with the European Union in the economic, political, and cultural spheres, as well as advancing in bilateral trade, regional integration, the fight against corruption, terrorism, impunity, organized crime, the respect for human rights, and the development of democracy in the region.

Spain. At the start of his working visit to Spain, the President of Mexico held bilateral meetings with executives of leading Spanish companies, in order to promote and deepen trade between both countries. The business sector representatives who met Mexicos leader were José María Cuevas, of the Spanish Confederation of Business Organisations; Francisco González, of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria; Alfonso Cortina, of Repsol YPF; Jesus Catania, of Corporación Mondragón; Iñigo de Oriol, of Iberdrola; Xabier de Irala, of airline Iberia, and Honorato López-Isla, the Director Delegate of Unión Fenosa.

In recent years, Mexico has become a leading destination for Spanish businessmen, with investments to date totalling more than $6 billion. This makes Spain the top European investor in Mexico. The Spanish government and Spanish companies have acknowledged how important it is to their process of globalisation to establish themselves in countries where the right conditions exist for them to do foreign trade business, as is the case of Mexico.

On May 16, President Vicente Fox made a working visit to the President of the Generalitat of Valencia, Eduardo Zaplana, on the third day of his European tour. Both Presidents discussed the need to increase ties and relations in the spheres of business, co-operation for development, and culture between Mexico and what is one of the most prosperous autonomous communities of Spain. President Zaplana expressed the interest of small and medium-sized Valencian companies in investing in and entering partnerships with Mexican companies, and highlighted President Foxs international prestige, earned thanks to his vision of transformation and global perspective.

Against this background, the Mexican government (Department of Social Development) and the Autonomous Community of Valencia signed a co-operation program to boost development co-operation projects aimed specifically at the most disadvantaged regions of Mexico like Oaxaca and Michoacán. The funds will be channeled to the construction of a training and development center and a health-care facility in the municipality of Cotija de la Paz, as well as an arts and crafts school and a series of enterprises. In Oaxaca a cultural center and an indigenous cultures research center will be built.

President Fox visit also included meetings with Mayor Rita Barberá, who gave him the keys to the City of Valencia, port authorities, and with the presidents of the regions most important savings banks. The meeting with port authorities gave President Fox and his entourage the opportunity to hear firsthand of the successful Valencian experience in terms of port infrastructure. The presidents of the savings banks heard President Fox describe the major changes taking place in Mexico as a result of approval of the Savings and Popular Credit Act, as well as the creation of BANSEFI, the National Savings and Financial Services Bank.

On May 17, in the context of the Madrid Summit, Mexicos President had a working breakfast with José Manuel Durao Barroso, the Prime Minister of Portugal. They discussed their expectations for the Summit and the contributions their respective countries are making.

Portugals Prime Minister explained his vision of the European Union and NATOs expansion to include countries of Central and Eastern Europe. President Fox highlighted the need for active participation in upcoming international forums. Both leaders agreed to strengthen the convergence of positions at multilateral forums on such issues as the fight against terrorism, the reform of the United Nations, and international peace and security.

During his visit to Spain and in the context of the EU-Latin America and the Caribbean Summit, the President of Mexico also met important leaders like Mr. Anthony Blair, Prime Minister for the United Kingdom; Mr. José Maria Aznar, Prime Minister of Spain; Mr. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, President of Brazil; Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, as President-in-Office of the European Council and Prime Minister Denmark, assisted by Mr Javier Solana, EUs High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy; Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxembourg and Mr. Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission; among other personalities.

Mexican President and the European leaders exchanged views on regional and international issues of mutual interest such as terrorism in all its forms and manifestations; they re-stated their commitment to the promotion and full implementation of all human rights; with regard to trade, the leaders noted with satisfaction that since the agreement between Mexico an the EU came into effect (eighteen months ago), trade has grown by 28,6%. Mexican exports to the Union had increased by 44,1%, while European sales to the Mexican market had grown by 23,1%. They also emphasized the importance of strengthening consultation on environmental issues in order to meet the challenges of promoting sustainable development and environmental protection.

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