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Now the Mat Is Out for Salinas : And It’s More Than a Personal Call

From one Sunday to the next, President Bush is going from one important summit meeting to another. Mikhail Gorbachev is gone, but today Washington’s welcome mat is out for a leader many compare to Gorbachev, because he is also transforming a foreign system that impacts the United States in many ways--Mexico’s Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

From one Sunday to the next, President Bush is going from one important summit meeting to another. Mikhail Gorbachev is gone, but today Washington’s welcome mat is out for a leader many compare to Gorbachev, because he is also transforming a foreign system that impacts the United States in many ways--Mexico’s Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

Officially, Salinas’ three days in Washington are not a state visit, just a personal call. But this will be the third time in less than a year he has visited this country, just one indication of how much closer--and better--relations are between Mexico City and Washington these days. Most people probably are not aware of that, because it’s the problems in the relationship that get most of the public attention. Lately the focus is on illegal drugs and tensions along the border. But the key issues in the Bush-Salinas meetings will be economic.

Salinas wants Bush and other U.S. government leaders to speed negotiations toward a U.S.-Mexico free trade agreement, akin to the one between Canada and the United States (which took three years to hammer out). Given how controversial closer economic ties between the two countries still are to Mexican nationalists, the speed with which Salinas is moving towards the pact is nothing short of amazing. Little wonder that many of his countrymen refer to Salinas’ reforms as Salinastroika.

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The Mexican president wants the free trade pact with the United States--despite all the political risks-- because he’s convinced Mexico must change its economy more rapidly than Eastern Europe’s former Communist governments are changing theirs. He was jarred on a recent visit to Europe when he found businessmen who once talked of investing in Mexico now more interested in East Germany or Hungary. That trip persuaded Salinas that investments to revive Mexico’s economy and help pay its massive foreign debt had to be found closer to home, especially in his country’s biggest trading partner, the United States.

Of course, people in this country must not think we can dictate the conditions of a free trade pact to Mexico as if we’re the only game in town. Because once Salinas is finished in Washington, he will return to Mexico City just long enough to pack his bags for a visit next week to another foreign country--Japan. The fast-moving Mexican president is not done with Salinastroika yet.

MEXICAN RED INK Mexico’s foreign debt, in billions of dollars. 1987: 107.5 1988: 100.4 1989: 95.5 * 1990: 95.9 Source: Mexican Ministry of Finance * Estimated by Wharton Econometric


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