May Open Bank Market to World

MADRID - Mexico is likely to liberalize its ownership rules for banks not covered by the pending North American free-trade agreement, a top government official said.

Meeting in Madrid with Mexican and Spanish business leaders, Pedro Aspe, Mexico's secretary of state for finance, said the government "probably will open up" to banks from outside the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

The treaty being negotiated would allow U.S. and Canadian banks to set up wholly owned bank subsidiaries in Mexico, with limits on their capitalization relative to the size of the entire Mexican banking industry.

Spain Would Top the List

Bank from other countries would be eligible to buy only up to 30% of existing Mexican banks, with limited voting rights. Spanish banks have been pushing for easing of this restriction.

Mr. Aspe was asked by Banco Santander's chairman, Emilo Botin, if the free-trade treaty would affect the interests of banks from outside the region that are interested in participating in the Mexican financial market.

He said candidates for such investment would be analyzed on a bilateral, case-by-case basis and that Spain would be high on the list.

"Mexico is not interested in setting up a fortress and wants to diversify and open its markets," he said.

President Carlos Salinas repeated comments he made earlier this week, in London, that the free-trade talks are nearing a close and the governments have asked negotiators to work out a deal at a session starting Saturday in Mexico City.

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