Reuters International

Carlos Sada Solana, new Mexican ambassador to the United States, arrives to news conference in Mexico City, Mexico, April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico has failed to pay proper attention to its relationship with the United States and will be more proactive in countering negative publicity it has suffered during the U.S. election campaign, its new ambassador to Washington said on Thursday.

Donald Trump, Republican front-runner for the presidential nomination, has accused Mexico of sending drug traffickers and rapists across the border and of hurting U.S. trade interests, and has vowed to build a border wall to shut the country out.

Other presidential hopefuls have also spoken out against the estimated 11 million undocumented migrants in the United States, roughly half of whom are Mexican, and expressed the need to renegotiate local trade deals in the United States' favour.

After being confirmed as the new ambassador in the Mexican Senate, Carlos Sada said Mexico would step up efforts to promote the interests of its citizens in the United States and deploy "cultural diplomacy" to improve its public image.

"We're going to be much more visible in media campaigns, communications campaigns, public relations campaigns," Sada told reporters at a news conference in Mexico City.

"What's going on? Well, we didn't pay attention, and what's happening with this rhetoric isn't new," he added, referring to the U.S. election campaign criticism of Mexico.

Sada, who had been Mexico's consul in Los Angeles, was picked this month after the government abruptly decided to replace Miguel Basanez, who was appointed ambassador in September. Basanez was a newcomer to the diplomatic service and an old friend of President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Opposition lawmakers and foreign policy experts have criticized Pena Nieto's response to Trump. Mexico's foreign ministry said after nominating Sada that it wanted an ambassador who would "more forcefully" defend its interests.

Sada said he would also seek to underline the importance of Mexico's economic ties with the United States.

Bilateral trade between the two nations is worth some $500 billion (£348.53 billion) annually and a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study published last year said 6 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Richard Chang)

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