Mexico's Fox Pledges Flexibility in Talks on China's WTO Bid

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

The president of Mexico, which has yet to formally endorse China's bid to join the World Trade Organization, said Wednesday that his country does not object to Beijing joining the trade body and will be flexible in talks on the issue.

President Vicente Fox made his comments during a whirlwind trip to Asia that has been dominated by trade and economic discussions. A day earlier, Fox and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi agreed to consider a free-trade pact between their nations.

On Wednesday, Fox met with Chinese President Jiang Zemin to discuss ways to strengthen trade, economic, scientific and cultural cooperation, one of Fox's aides said.

The official New China News Agency said Fox told Jiang that Mexico "will take a more flexible stance" in upcoming talks about Beijing's WTO bid so that a deal can be reached "as soon as possible."

Fox's aide confirmed the report, speaking on condition of anonymity.

After 15 years of negotiations, China hopes to this year join the organization that makes rules for world trade. But it needs approval from all 141 WTO members; Mexico and the U.S. are the only ones that have yet to complete negotiations. Talks with Mexico were interrupted in November because Chinese negotiators were waiting for Fox's administration to take office.

In Tokyo, Fox and Koizumi agreed to set up a joint panel of academics, business leaders and government officials to study a possible bilateral free-trade agreement. They also discussed cooperating in energy ventures.

Fox said he would consider Koizumi's appeal that Mexico lower taxes imposed on Japanese companies, a Japanese government spokesman said. The Japanese are among the largest investors in Mexico yet face disadvantages because their nation is not part of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trade between the nations has increased in recent years: Japanese exports to Mexico, mostly machinery and auto parts, grew 12% to $4.7 billion in 2000 over the previous year, while Mexico's oil and agricultural exports to Japan jumped 37% to $2.1 billion in the same period. Japanese companies have invested $7 billion in Mexico, including about $1.2 billion in the fiscal year ended in March.

Fox's visit included a meeting with Hiroshi Okuda, chairman of Toyota Motor Corp., which recently established a sales venture in Mexico City but has been cautious about building an assembly plant in the country because of its economic fluctuations. Rival Nissan Motor Co. launched an assembly plant in Mexico in 1992 and sold about 180,000 vehicles there last year.

Foreign investment in Mexico has surged in the last five years, thanks to free-trade agreements and domestic deregulation. The U.S. is by far the largest investor in Mexico, followed by Britain, Japan and Canada.

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