| BUENOS AIRES
BUENOS AIRES Mexico, seeking closer ties with the rest of Latin America, expects to finish negotiations on a trade deal with Argentina involving cars and agricultural products around the end of the year, Mexico's deputy minister for foreign trade said in an interview on Tuesday.
Mexico has been trying to diversify its trade partners since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, its biggest export market.
A team of Mexican negotiators led by deputy minister Juan Carlos Baker arrived in Buenos Aires this week to advance talks that started last year, when Argentine President Mauricio Macri pledged to open the South American nation's economy.
Under the deal, Argentina could gain part of the lucrative grains market in Mexico, Latin America's No. 2 economy, Baker told Reuters.
In 2015 Mexico imported $2.3 billion worth of U.S. corn and $1.4 billion of U.S. soy. But Baker said those numbers will likely decrease under a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement called for by Trump.
"The potential is there," Baker said. "The Argentine exporters could find attractive conditions in Mexico."
Mexico, in turn, could export cars to Argentina, he said.
"We have a very strong manufacturing industry and Argentina is an important market for us," Baker said.
Mexico sells around 80 percent of its exports to the United States, which has been the source of roughly half the foreign direct investment in Mexico in the last two decades.
Formal talks to renegotiate NAFTA, which also includes Canada, do not have a specific start date. But the U.S. Congress, currently on recess, requires a 90-day notification before official talks can start.
"I believe if the notification is sent once the recess is over, maybe at the beginning of May, if you count 90 days that will take us to August," Baker said.
Baker said Mexico would not accept going back to paying export taxes even if shipments to the United States were restricted. He said rules of origin, or the percentage of a finished product that must be made in North America for NAFTA consideration, could potentially be modified, however.
(Additional reporting by Miguel Lo Bianco, writing by Caroline Stauffer; editing by Dan Grebler and Bill Trott)