The train leading to a United States-Mexico free trade agreement has left the station and is heading down a fast track for approval before mid-decade. Now that Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari has formally asked for negotiations, President Bush is in a position to request Congress' approval. He is expected to do so this week under a 90-day yes-or-no rule that should get officials to the bargaining table by next Spring.
Despite presidential enthusiasm on both sides of the Rio Grande, the negotiations will be contentious and controversial. Organized labor in this country, which has turned incurably protectionist, can be counted on to raise the specter of Americans working for peon wages. Mexican businesses that have grown fat and sloppy operating in a closed market are openly fearful of U.S. competition and efficiency.
Because Mexico's quasi-democracy gives Mr. Salinas control over his legislative branch, the main burden for bringing the free trade agreement to fruition will fall on the Bush administration. Carla Hills, the special trade representative, has said an accord would create job opportunities for Americans and produce benefits far greater than the concerns that have been raised. She will have to present convincing evidence that this is the case, first when she asks for the congressional green light and then when she has to lobby for a completed agreement.