Billionaire Carlos Slim said on Friday Mexico should not fear Donald Trump, seeing opportunities for his country in the U.S. president's economic policies, and praised Mexicans for uniting behind their government in talks with the northern neighbor.
In a rare news conference, the telecoms and construction mogul called Trump a negotiator, "not Terminator" and said his repeated attacks on Mexico had united the country, giving President Enrique Pena Nieto "strength" in trade and border security talks.
"This is the most surprising example of national unity that I've had the pleasure of seeing in my life," Slim said, comparing it to the country's response to the devastating earthquake that hit Mexico City in 1985. "We have to back the president of Mexico so he defends our national interests."
Slim spoke to reporters after Pena Nieto on Thursday canceled a planned summit with Trump following a tweet by the American that he should stay away unless Mexico agreed to pay for a border wall. Aiming to cool tensions, the two presidents spoke for an hour by phone on Friday, and the battered peso currency strengthened.
The American leader's threats to impose steep tariffs on Mexican products has ravaged the peso and spread worries about the economy, which is heavily dependent on the U.S. market.
However, Slim, who spoke out against his fellow billionaire during the U.S. election campaign but had dinner with him after the Nov. 8 victory, said Trump's policies aimed at growing the U.S. economy would boost Mexico's growth as well as provide jobs for Mexican laborers living north of the border.
"The circumstances in the United States are very favorable for Mexico," Slim said.
TRUMP'S "REGRESSIVE UTOPIAS"
Referring repeatedly to Trump's books and other writings, Slim argued that Mexican workers in the United States would benefit from Trump's planned infrastructure push. He warned, however, that U.S. protectionism and other economic policy changes might create some jobs, but could hurt millions of U.S. consumers.
"Among these changes is a return to the past, what a dear friend called 'regressive utopias'," he said, calling on the United States to focus on advanced manufacturing.
Asked about Trump's plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Slim said the best barrier to illegal immigration would be investment that created opportunities and jobs in Mexico.
He said Mexico should seize the opportunity to develop a more domestic-focused industry and could consider import substitution, a policy that went out of fashion in developing economies as free-trade took hold.
He also said businesses should not be too worried if Trump's policies led to the collapse of the NAFTA free trade deal that underpins Mexico's economy, saying that under World Trade Organisation tariffs Mexico would be fine.
Slim's largest companies do not have much obvious exposure to any border tax Trump might impose on Mexican imports.
His high profile holding in the New York Times Company, made him a target during the campaign, when Trump accused him of using it to try to help Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton. Slim's shares have limited voting rights.
Slim on Friday said he had been selling New York Times stock, but his son-in-law later clarified that this was not correct.
Most of the Slim family's wealth comes from Latin America-focused telecoms giant America Movil.
America Movil does have a substantial U.S. business called TracFone which sells pre-pay phone plans to customers and rents the networks of big operators.
His next biggest companies are retail and industrial conglomerate Grupo Carso and Mexico-focused bank Grupo Financiero Inbursa
(Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Andrew Hay)