DALLAS -- Underwriters are not the only ones hoping to benefit from new opportunities south of the border.

Fitch Investors Service said on Tuesday it has entered a collaborative agreement to rate Mexican debt issues with Clasificadora de Riesgos, a newly created rating agency based in Monterrey, Mexico.

"This is a first step for us," said David Nixon, executive vice president of Fitch and a member of the board for the new agency, known as Clase.

While all three major Wall Street rating agencies grade international government and private deals, Fitch is only the second firm to create an alliance with a Mexico-based agency. The first was Standard & Poor's Corp.

Mr. Nixon said yesterday the agreement was a result of talks started a year ago by Mexican regulatory officials seeking to further develop their financial markets.

Although the terms of the agreement were not revealed, Fitch said it has an option to take an equity stake in Clase. A majority position is not possible, however, since Mexican law prohibits direct foreign ownership.

Under the agreement, Fitch will work with its new counterpart to rate deals. Clase will use its own criteria to rate securities offered only in the Mexican market, while Fitch will use separate criteria for deals offered in the U.S. and other foreign markets.

For instance, if a transaction were rated A by Clase, that grade would be according to standards used on other deals sold only within Mexico, and not on deals sold with the same Fitch rating in the United States.

"It's a different criteria," said Mr. Nixon.

He said ratings could range from deals to finance private businesses to government efforts to raise capital for municipal-style infrastructure projects.

"We are looking at one of those [deals] now, but I can't say which project it involves," Mr. Nixon said.

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