Christie to take trade mission to Mexico

Gov. Christie will travel to Mexico early next month on a trade mission intended to strengthen New Jersey's economic ties to the Latin American country, his office announced Thursday.

The three-day visit - Christie's first international trip of his second term - will "promote increased trade, economic growth, job creation, and higher education" in New Jersey and Mexico, the governor's office said in a statement.

It will include a meeting between Christie and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Christie's office said.

The trip comes as the New Jersey governor weighs a possible run for president in 2016.

Christie's office said the trip, first reported Thursday by the New York Times, is being coordinated by Clifford Sobel, former U.S. ambassador to Brazil, and Robert Grady, a former George H.W. Bush administration official who is chairman of the New Jersey State Investment Council.

The governor's office did not announce Thursday who would accompany Christie on the trip, but said the New Jersey delegation would include members of the state's "business, pharmaceutical, and energy communities," along with higher education officials.

In addition to Peña Nieto, Christie will meet with Mexican business leaders and other officials. The trip will highlight New Jersey's partnership with Mexico, Christie's office said, noting that New Jersey exported more than $2 billion in goods to Mexico last year.

Christie also wants to experience Mexican culture and will engage in "community interaction," the statement from his office said.

Aides said further details about the trip would be available soon.

Christie's last international trip as governor was to Israel in 2012. To prepare for the trip to Mexico, he is consulting experts including Latin America specialist Shannon K. O'Neil and Luis Alberto Moreno, former Colombian ambassador to the United States, the Times reported.

His office said Christie has met with Mexico's ambassador to the United States, Eduardo Medina Mora, while his staff has met with the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Earl Anthony Wayne.

In New Jersey, Christie won 51 percent of the state's Hispanic vote in his November reelection. At the end of last year, he signed a law that allowed undocumented immigrant college students to pay in-state tuition rates at New Jersey colleges and universities, though he would not agree to a provision that would have rendered the students eligible to apply for state financial aid.

On a national level, Christie has criticized President Obama over the recent influx of unaccompanied children trying to enter the United States at the Mexican border, but has made no detailed remarks recently about immigration policy.

At an event last month in Iowa, where he was fund-raising as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie brushed off a question about immigration by calling the topic too complex to address "in a parking lot in Marion."

By traveling to Mexico, Christie will face more questions about immigration - particularly given the trip's focus on economic partnerships and labor issues, said Hector Barajas, a Republican consultant in California who has worked on Latino voter outreach efforts.

"He's probably going to have to have some sort of answer," Barajas said.

Martin Perez, president of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, said he hoped the trip would give Christie insight into issues affecting the Hispanic community, adding that Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic also deserved attention.

"The more he understands the issues, economic issues and immigration issues, the more he can participate in the solution to those problems," Perez said.

609-989-8990 @maddiehanna