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Can Mexico reclaim title as region's largest economy from Brazil?

Mexico was once Latin America’s darling, but in the past decade Brazil has far surpassed it as commodities drove economic growth. President-elect Peña Nieto is eager to reposition Mexico.

By Correspondent, Staff writer / September 20, 2012

Brazilian Iolanda Villard answers questions about Mexico and Brazil, on September 18, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

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MEXICO CITY and RIO DE JANEIRO

Mexico’s President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto has embarked on a diplomatic tour of six countries in Central and South America in an effort to reset rocky relationships and reestablish Mexico's position in the region.

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Top talking points include the region’s shared security concerns, especially with Guatemala and Colombia, and smoothing trade relations with Argentina and Brazil, both of which have had recent commercial spats with Mexico. Mr. Peña Nieto is also visiting Chile and Peru.

But Brazil looms especially large: Mexico, which in 2005 lost its status to Brazil as the region’s largest economy, is eager to reposition itself as an economic and political leader. If Peña Nieto is going to secure those regional leadership credentials, he must reach out to the continent’s current giant.

Peña Nieto, who will officially take office Dec. 1, is poised to return the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, to presidential power following 12 years of governance by President Felipe Calderón's National Action Party. Before 2000, the PRI ruled with near-authoritarian control.

On his first visit to Brazil, in which he met yesterday with business leaders and meets today with President Dilma Rousseff, Peña Nieto offered a clean slate in terms of bilateral relations, strained in recent years by Brazil’s rise as a global powerhouse and Mexico’s more recent focus on its ties to its northern neighbor, the United States.

“We are constantly designated as being two economies that are in competition and occasionally in rivalry,” Peña Nieto said in a statement issued in Sao Paulo. “When, really, we should find an opportunity for better integration, for better commercial exchange between both countries.”

Duncan Wood, director of the international relations program at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, or ITAM, describes Peña Nieto’s approach as “‘Let’s try to reset our relationship. Let’s treat each other as equals and see how we can help each other out.’”

“Because it’s a different political party than the last 12 years, I think it provides that opportunity,” Mr. Wood says. “Can the rivalry be turned into a partnership now?”

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