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Bush, Salinas Press for Free-Trade Pact : Summit: The two presidents meet at Camp David. They order negotiators to complete the controversial U.S.-Mexico treaty ‘as soon as possible.’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

President Bush and Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, meeting at Camp David, Md., ordered negotiators of a U.S.-Mexico free-trade pact to complete the controversial accord “as soon as possible,” the White House said Saturday.

By expressing their “strong commitment” to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the two leaders appeared eager to demonstrate that election-year politics will not slow progress on the issue of trade between the two nations.

Widespread concern about the potential impact of the proposed trade agreement on American jobs has raised doubts that it would be completed and sent to Congress for ratification before the 1992 election.

In defending the proposed pact, the White House said it would stimulate economic growth and create new employment opportunities on both sides of the border, including an estimated 44,000 to 64,000 new U.S. jobs over 10 years.

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American labor leaders and some prominent Democrats have countered that a free-trade agreement with Mexico would result in the flight of American manufacturing jobs south of the border, where labor costs are lower and safety standards less stringent.

In their first face-to-face meeting since last April, Bush and Salinas also discussed the illegal narcotics trade, a subject that has strained U.S.-Mexican relations since a foiled drug bust last month resulted in the shooting deaths of several Mexican federal officers.

A White House statement on the meeting said both leaders pledged “to continue vigorous efforts against the scourge of narcotics trafficking.” While both countries are making progress in reducing border violence, the statement said that more will be done “to ensure the safety of both countries’ citizens in the border area.”

Once completed and ratified, the free-trade pact would remove existing trade and tariff barriers between the United States and Mexico. The United States has concluded such an agreement with Canada.

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For the three-year-old Salinas government, the political stakes have become enormous. In anticipation of the accord, the Mexican president has instituted unpopular environmental reforms, including the closure of more than 2,000 industrial facilities that failed to meet environmental guidelines outlined in the emerging accord.

Such costs have made Mexico increasingly touchy about what it would receive in return as trade barriers begin to come down. Mexican trade officials in recent weeks have complained that American exporters are sending hogs with swine infertility and respiratory syndrome to their country and also may be spreading the Oriental fruit moth across the border.

U.S. Trade Representative Carla Anderson Hills, who is overseeing the negotiations on the trade agreement, was said to have pressed the Mexican leader Saturday to agree to the inclusion of provisions governing intellectual property protections, services, investment, market access, and dispute settlement.

So far, Mexico has resisted detailed provisions that would allow U.S. banks and financial institutions to operate in Mexico or permit U.S. oil companies to break into the Mexican energy market.

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Saturday’s meeting took place at the presidential retreat at Camp David, underscoring the friendly personal relations between the two leaders.


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