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© AFP/File | A section of the border fence on the US/Mexico border in Tecate, California


Juicy contracts or patriotic pride?

That was the dilemma facing Mexican construction firms Thursday as conservative lawmakers ramped up the pressure on companies tempted to help build US President Donald Trump's planned border wall.

Senator Gabriela Cuevas of the opposition National Action Party was due to introduce a bill barring the government from doing business with any Mexican firm that participates in building the wall, a deeply reviled project in Mexico.

"It's essential that government purchases, at all levels of government, exclude any kind of contract with any company that participates in building the wall," she told AFP.

Cuevas, the head of the Senate foreign relations committee, said negotiations were also under way to amend existing laws on public works projects and government purchases to exert similar pressure.

Trump's plan for a "big, beautiful" wall on the US-Mexican border -- a central campaign pledge -- could cost $21.6 billion, according to a Department of Homeland Security estimate.

His insistence that Mexico pay for the wall, together with his attacks on Mexican immigrants as "criminals" and "rapists," have caused a diplomatic row between the two neighbors.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto canceled a White House visit over the wall issue in January.

But the opposition has sought to portray the president as too soft on Trump, capitalizing on a nationalist backlash against the Republican billionaire.

According to the US Customs and Border Protection agency, construction companies are lining up to get a piece of the wall project.

It postponed its call for bids Wednesday, saying more time was needed because "industry interest has been high."

No new date has been set yet. So far some 650 businesses have answered a "pre-solicitation" call.

Mexican cement giant Cemex said earlier this month it was ready to supply materials for the wall and "all types of infrastructure projects" in the United States -- a nod to Trump's other big plan to ramp up infrastructure spending.

But another construction giant, Elementia -- partly owned by Mexican billionaire and Trump critic Carlos Slim -- has said it wants nothing to do with the wall.

On Tuesday, a company in the central Mexican state of Puebla called Ecovelocity raised eyebrows when it said it wanted to install lighting for the wall.

But owner Theodore Atalla later backtracked, telling AFP he had "already withdrawn the proposal."

"I don't see how any Mexican company could be interested in participating" in the wall, said the president of the Mexican Construction Industry Chamber, Gustavo Arballo, calling the project "absurd."

© 2017 AFP