In blow to Trump, GE backs NAFTA and voices support for Mexico

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto smiles with Jeffrey R. Immelt, Chief Executive of General Electric at Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City, in this undated handout photo released to Reuters by the Mexican Presidency on May 12, 2017. Mexico Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

By Dave Graham

MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) – General Electric <GE.N> on Friday praised Mexico as a big part of its future and said the company is “very supportive” of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that U.S President Donald Trump has threatened to ditch.

GE Chief Executive Officer Jeff Immelt said on a visit that Mexico had great potential and was not properly understood. He touted the conglomerate’s Mexican operations and the trade deal binding Mexico, Canada and the United States.

“GE as a company, we’re very supportive of NAFTA,” Immelt told employees at an event to mark the expansion of operations in the northern city of Monterrey. He said the trade accord could be modernized, as Mexico has argued.

Immelt sits on a Trump-appointed manufacturing council that Mexico has targeted for lobbying as Mexico and Canada push U.S. business leaders to defend NAFTA.

The GE boss said trade meant “win-win” opportunities across North America.

“We will continue to work constructively in the context of wanting to see a close relationship between the U.S. and Mexico,” he said, noting that GE’s exports to the rest of the world from Mexico were worth $3 billion.

“We’re optimistic about Mexico, we’re optimistic about what we can do here,” Immelt added, saying Latin America’s no. 2 economy would be a “big part” of GE’s future.

Earlier this month, Immelt urged the Trump administration to avoid protectionist policies, calling on it to level the playing field for U.S. companies with tax reform, revived export financing and improved trade agreements.

Trump touts a “Buy American” policy and has railed against U.S. companies moving operations to Mexico. He has threatened to ditch NAFTA, a lynchpin of the Mexican economy, if he cannot rework it to secure better terms for the United States.

Unlike some U.S. companies, GE has not backed off plans in Mexico, risking broadsides from Trump on Twitter.

Earlier, the Mexican presidency said in a statement that GE had stated an interest in doubling purchases from Mexican suppliers next year. Immelt did not mention this.

Vladimiro de la Mora, CEO for Mexico, said the figure came from an announcement last year and did not mean GE aimed to double purchases between this year and 2018.

On Thursday, GE said it had won a contract to provide plants producing two new gigawatts of power in Mexico and secured a separate $120 million, multi-year service deal.

De la Mora said GE could not yet reveal details of the 2 GW deal, but it was “likely” the value of the total investment in the power plants would exceed $500 million.

(Reporting by Dave Graham in Monterrey, Additional Reporting by Mexico newsroom in Mexico City; editing by Grant McCool and David Gregorio)

GE fixing bug in software after warning about power grid hacks

FILE PHOTO: The logo of a General Electric (GE) facility is seen behind tree branches in Medford, Massachusetts, U.S., April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

By Jim Finkle

(Reuters) – General Electric Co <GE.N> said on Wednesday it is fixing a bug in software used to control the flow of electricity in a utility’s power systems after researchers found that hackers could shut down parts of an electric grid.

The vulnerability could enable attackers to gain remote control of GE protection relays, enabling them to “disconnect sectors of the power grid at will,” according to an abstract posted late last week on the Black Hat security conference website.

Protection relays are circuit breakers that utilities program to open and halt power transmission when dangerous conditions surface.

Interest in grid security has intensified amid the increased use of cyber weapons by nation states, including two high-profile cyber attacks in Ukraine that authorities in Kiev have blamed on Russia.

Three New York University security experts are scheduled to discuss the issue at the Las Vegas Black Hat hacking conference in July. They could not be reached immediately for comment.

GE is not aware of any cases in which hackers exploited the bug to cause power outages, said GE spokeswoman Annette Busateri. The bug only involves older GE protection relays introduced in the 1990s “before current industry expectations for security,” she said.

“We have been in the process of issuing notifications and providing product upgrades to our affected customer base on available firmware updates to address this issue,” she said.

GE has issued patches for five of six models affected by the vulnerability and will soon release a patch for the sixth model, Busateri said.

Michael Assante, former chief security officer with the North American Electric Reliability Corp, which regulates the North American grid, said the product was still widely deployed because the industry runs systems for decades before upgrading to new technologies.

“This is certainly a significant issue,” he said.

Hackers caused power to go out in 2015 and 2016 attacks in Ukraine by using other techniques to force breakers to open, Assante said.

(Reporting by Jim Finkle in Toronto; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)