MEXICO CITY — In case you missed it, the United States and Mexico have been quietly switching places in their long-running oil trade partnership.
Here's a quick, first take on the news.
What the figures say: For the first time since records began, a higher value of petroleum products went south from the United States to Mexico than those in the reverse direction. The change happened in the first quarter of this year, according to Mexico’s El Financiero newspaper, as Mexico exported $8.248 billion worth of petroleum and imported $8.799 billion — a trade deficit of more than $500 million. The numbers include crude oil, gasoline and petroleum derivatives.
Why is this happening? Companies based in the United States have long refined Mexican oil and sent the gasoline back over the border. But the main new factor is that the US is importing less oil as it reaps the benefit of increased natural gas production. While coming under fire for allegedly polluting water and causing earthquakes, the shale gas industry is changing energy economics and politics.
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What are the consequences? In the US, the lowering reliance on importing oil will likely be used by the oil and gas companies as a vindication of techniques such as hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. In Mexico, the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto will likely use the figures as more evidence that the country needs to reform its state-controlled energy sector. A change in the constitution approved in December will allow private and foreign investment in Mexican energy, and Mexico’s Congress is currently debating the rules on this.