U.S. expected to delay pact on Mexico trade Political motives block free-trade deal

December 12, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- When the president of Mexico visits him Saturday, President Bush is expected to hit Carlos Salinas de Gortari with this piece of bad news: The proposed free-trade agreement between the United States and Mexico is on hold, possibly until after the 1992 presidential election.

A prolonged recession in the United States and Mr. Bush's suddenly uncertain re-election dooms consummation of the controversial pact until late next year at the earliest, both supporters and opponents say.

"My sense is that there will be no agreement before the election," said Peter Hakim, staff director of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank.

The agreement would create an open trade market between the United States and Mexico, similar to the one that now exists between the United States and Canada. The idea has wide support in the U.S. business community.

Opponents, including organized labor and some in agriculture, TC have been unable to derail the proposed pact they say would move jobs and businesses to Mexico, where wages are lower and environmental laws are less stringent.

Mr. Salinas has promoted the agreement as a linchpin to economic recovery in Mexico. As a result, even though he understands that political realities in the United States will delay the agreement, Mr. Salinas is expected to press Mr. Bush for a timetable for completion when the pair meet for the eighth time in three years, a Mexican government official said.

The Camp David meeting, described by a White House spokesman as "informal and private," includes no specific agenda.

Among the issues that may be discussed are drug smuggling and Haiti.

But the free-trade pact is the expected centerpiece of conversation, analysts and lobbyists said.

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