James Osborne / chron.com
WASHINGTON - After decades of banishment from Mexico's oil and gas fields, American companies like Exxon Mobil and Chevron are becoming a presence there again.
But just four years after Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto invited foreign companies into his country to help modernize its struggling energy industries, the rise of populist politics in Mexico is driving concerns about the future of reforms that ended the national oil company's monopoly and opened markets to competition.
With the U.S. and Mexican governments renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, oil and gas companies, as well as the Pena Nieto administration, are pressing for protections in the treaty against any future efforts in Mexico to push out foreign oil companies.
"It's a bulwark, should Mexico change their minds on the reforms," said David Goldwyn, a former State Department special envoy during the Obama administration who now heads the Atlantic Council's Energy Advisory Group, a think tank. "If someone wants to get nasty, this could go wrong a lot of different ways."
The front-runner to succeed Pena Nieto in next summer's presidential election - the leftist former mayor of Mexico City, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador - has been a vocal critic of Pena Nieto and said if elected he would hold a referendum on the energy reforms.
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