The winner of a bidding war to build a $3 billion ethylene cracker on Mexico's Gulf Coast should be announced in April, a senior official at Mexico's state-owned oil company's petrochemicals division said.
However, the official, Carlos Pani, deputy commercial director of Pemex Petroquímica SA, also told a plastics industry conference in Ixtapa Zihuatanejo that the financial crisis afflicting much of the world might cause the announcement to be delayed.
Pemex is considering pitches from 11 private sector companies, Pani told delegates to the conference, organized by Mexico's national plastics industries association, Anipac.
The project, known as Proyecto Etileno XXI, would produce 2.2 billion pounds of ethylene per year in Coatzacoalcos, in the state of Veracruz.
It originally attracted interest from 31 firms, according to Pani, who declined to identify any of the bidders ``for ethical reasons.''
In an interview after his presentation, Pani said Mexico produces about 2.2 billion pounds of ethylene per year but has to import an additional 2.2 billion pounds to meet the demand.
The bidding war revolves around the price that the competing companies, many of them believed to be multinational, are prepared to pay Pemex for the ethane and natural gasoline required to operate the cracker.
President Felipe CalderÃ³n announced the process in February and was criticized by Anipac's then-president, Eduardo de la Tijera, for the ``cumbersome'' bidding procedures.
It was not the first time Mexican firms pursuing petrochemical projects had been asked to sign long-term contracts for ethane and natural gasoline, he said.
``I don't see a reason to open international bidding for these feedstocks, provided that they can be negotiated at arm's length without the complication of such a procedure,'' he said. ``It seems to me that once again the interest of the [Mexican treasury] is being given precedence over the possibility of having investment made by Mexican companies readily and for the benefit of the industry.''
He said the auction would delay any decision on the cracker for at least another year ``and I have not seen in my lifetime such a procedure for developing a petrochemical industry in any [other] country.''