Mexican Cement Company Looks To Profit From Border Wall

Mar 6, 2017
Originally published on March 6, 2017 4:01 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Bidding opens Wednesday for companies that want to build the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. We're going to look now at a Mexican company that could profit no matter which company wins the bid. Since President Trump often promises to buy and hire American, this could raise objections in the U.S. and in Mexico. NPR's Carrie Kahn is on the line with us from Mexico City. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So this is a giant Mexican cement company. Why would it want to be part of this boarder wall construction process?

KAHN: The short answer - money, of course.

SHAPIRO: Right.

KAHN: We're talking about a project that could cost anywhere between 15 to $21 billion, and, of course, they want a part of it. As a foreign company, they can bid on the project, but given the current political climate, as you discussed, they probably wouldn't get the bid. And Cemex would just provide the cement for the project. And Cemex is really well-poised to provide that cement. It has plants in California, Arizona and Texas and has provided up to 30 percent as part of this Latin American consortium - the cement used in the U.S. Sunbelt in home construction mostly.

SHAPIRO: So Cemex has places in the U.S. and in Mexico. It's done this kind of work. But politically speaking, is it toxic for Cemex to be involved in a project like this?

KAHN: Well, just the speculation that they could provide the cement for the project has already had a lot of comments here and blowback in Mexico. The chairman of Cemex told a national newspaper here that it would gladly - that was his words - it would gladly provide estimates. They didn't respond to my calls for comments, but in a statement to other outlets, they've said it's the responsibility of Cemex to provide estimates to its clients. And it has a lot of clients in the United States.

You know, Cemex took a huge hit in the global recession and is just coming out of it, so it can't really turn down one of the largest infrastructure projects in the U.S. There's been calls for boycotts, but - and maybe that would hurt them - but only 30 percent of its sales are in this country. Seventy percent of Cemex sales are outside of Mexico. And just one more statistic about Cemex - since Trump was elected in November, Cemex has seen its shares jump nearly 20 percent. And the biggest jump traded in dollars in the U.S. happened right after Trump's address to the joint session of Congress when he emphasized his infrastructure plans.

SHAPIRO: We still have President Trump insisting that Mexico will pay for this. There's been speculation that it could come out of foreign aid to Mexico, perhaps from blocking remittances. Given all of this, what is the reaction in Mexico towards the war going forward?

KAHN: Well, the wall is widely hated here. There's no change in that. But what's interesting, though, is we've been seeing Mexican officials taking a stronger stance against Trump's threats, like - recently the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was here, and he got a big no on some of the immigration plans that Trump has talked about, especially deporting migrants. Other than Mexico's - back to Mexico - he got a big no on that one.

There's also the speculation, like you said, that the U.S. would withhold foreign aid in a way to pay for the wall, and that got a strong rebuke from officials here. Most of the U.S. aid that comes to Mexico comes through what's known as the Merida Initiative. It's for security spending, like police training, equipment - that sort of stuff. But more than half of that money has already been spent, and only a billion is left to dole out. And that's far short of the 15 to $21 billion talked about for the wall construction. We heard the interior minister just last month say go ahead. Keep it. We don't want it. Mexico doesn't need it. That's a lot stronger talk than we've heard out of Mexico lately.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Thanks, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome.

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