Clinton, Mexican President Endorse Trade Agreement In First Foreign Summit

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THE summit between President-elect Clinton and President Carlos Salinas de Gortari of Mexico boosted the likelihood that relations between the United States and its third-largest trading partner will continue to prosper under the new US administration.

That bodes well for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed last month by Mr. Salinas, President Bush, and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Upon ratification by their respective legislatures, NAFTA will bind the three countries' 360 million consumers and $6 trillion economies into the world's largest and wealthiest single market.

In obtaining the only pre-inauguration foreign summit with Mr. Clinton, Salinas sought to ensure the Democrat's commitment to a 2,000-page treaty negotiated by Mr. Bush's Republican administration. With Vice President-elect Al Gore Jr. in attendance, the two met at the Texas governor's mansion.

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As anti-NAFTA demonstrators and other protesters chanted slogans from beyond police barricades at the mansion, Clinton repeated his campaign position on the trade agreement: He promised not to reopen the NAFTA negotiations, but he insisted that labor and environmental issues would be addressed separately.

In addition, Clinton promised that upon taking office he will appoint an overseer to expedite the handling of all issues related to NAFTA.

"I would like to see this wrapped up in a prompt fashion, but I want these other issues addressed," he said. Groups are concerned about loss of jobs

Environmental and labor groups charge that NAFTA will lure high-paying jobs from the US to Mexico, where wages are 90 percent lower and where safety and environmental standards are lacking or are not enforced. They point to the vast number of US-owned factories that were erected just across the border under Mexico's maquila program.

NAFTA analysts in El Paso, however, point out that the maquila program already enables any US company to own an export factory in Mexico.

While those operations might take jobs away from the US, NAFTA will enable the companies to erect factories to serve the Mexican market for the first time, casting doubt on the presumption that US jobs would be lost.

Those domestic-oriented factories would likely be located in the interior of Mexico, near the markets, rather than in the sparsely populated northern desert. Thus, if they pollute - and Mexico is beefing up its detection and enforcement capabilities - at least they would not contribute to the problems along the US border, these analysts say.

Texas stands to gain under NAFTA. Already, products from Texas account for half of all US exports to Mexico. Two-thirds of all US-Mexico trade passes through a single Texas border town, Laredo. The Texas Department of Commerce estimates that growth in exports from Texas could create 65,000 direct jobs by 1995. Clinton vows to respect Mexican sovereignty

Clinton gave Salinas assurances that he would respect Mexico's sovereignty by not kidnapping Mexican suspects for trial in the US. Relations were strained in 1990 when bounty-hunters kidnapped a Mexican doctor wanted in connection with the murder of a US Drug Enforcement Administration agent. The doctor was tried and found not guilty. Clinton had previously disagreed with a Supreme Court ruling that sanctioned the kidnapping, a stance the president-elect reiterated at the press conference.

Clinton also met Bob Krueger, appointed by Gov. Ann Richards (D) of Texas to fill the US Senate seat of Treasury Secretary-designate Lloyd Bentsen. Mr. Krueger must fight to keep the seat in a May special election. Clinton made supportive statements but stopped short of endorsing Krueger, who will likely face other Democrats as well as Republicans in the open election.

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