López Obrador seeks to persuade private companies to help with his goal of moving jobs south, farther into Mexico, and away from the U.S. border, and to start using government infrastructure that doesn’t really suit their needs. He alternately cajoles them and threatens them.
Early in his term, he forced natural gas companies to re-negotiate supply contracts that he considered too lucrative. And he changed the rules for foreign-owned renewable- and gas-fired electrical power plants, to favor dirtier, state-owned power generation facilities.
He has, however, avoided expropriating anything, even things he really wants, like a limestone quarry owned by Alabama-based Vulcan Materials near the Caribbean coast resort of Playa del Carmen.
The president wants to turn the crystalline quarry pools into a tourist attraction — though they are full of crocodiles — so he’s tried to force the company, so far unsuccessfully, to sell out, by ordering it closed and encouraging Mexicans to bring complaints against the firm.
Likewise, he has struggled to get airlines to use his new Mexico City airport despite limiting flights into the older one closer to the capital.
López Obrador is also desperately looking for customers for the rail-and-road corridor connecting the Pacific with the Gulf of Mexico, across the narrow waist of Mexico known as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
He hopes to build a string of about 10 industrial parks along the corridor, to lure foreign-owned manufacturing plants from the U.S. border. He has threatened not to grant any more permits for water-intensive industries on the border, where most firms cluster for reasons of logistics and proximity.
López Obrador — known in Mexico by his initials, AMLO — has basically issued an ultimatum to a U.S.-based firm to build a liquified natural gas terminal in Mexico. But the gas pipelines to feed such a plant would have to be built. Private companies have stayed away, instead announcing plans for LNG ports on the U.S. side of the Gulf.
“The government capacity to move projects forward has been weak and out of focus, as in the case of increasing the supply of natural gas,” said Adrian Duhalt, a research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global on Energy Policy.