Free Trade with Mexico

September 17, 1990

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.

The Iraqi crisis has provided added incentive for an accord since greater Mexican oil production through greater infusions of U.S. technology would lessen America's dependence on Mideast oil. This factor, when combined with the European Community's rush to set up a highly competitive and protectionist single market by the end of the 1992, should improve prospects for final approval of a U.S.-Mexico pact. The eventual inclusion of Canada, which already has a free trade agreement with the United States, could produce a North American Common Market -- the largest in the world.

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