MONTERREY, MEXICO, NOV. 27 -- President Bush ended his two-day visit to Mexico today by promoting free trade between the two countries as the route to "unprecedented prosperity and jobs" and hailing U.S. friendship with Mexico as a sign that "we are one family."
The president raced through events designed to showcase the two nations' interest in stronger economic ties and began selling the idea of a U.S.-Mexican free-trade pact even before negotiators get down to serious bargaining.
Bush told an audience of civic leaders this morning, "Free trade is good for the United States and good for Mexico. Good for American workers and good for the workers of Mexico." The message appeared aimed at an American audience as much as a Mexican audience.
During a meeting with business executives, Bush was asked about protectionist pressures in the United States. He said the U.S. economy "may slow down even more," and that those pressures could increase as it does. He added quickly, however, that "I don't think, as we go forward on a free-trade agreement, that it's going to get caught up in the evil vise of U.S. protectionism."
Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady, who is accompanying the president, said that while the Mexicans continue to oppose making oil a part of negotiations on trade, for the first time they have shown an interest in the services of American oil drilling firms. He said the United States was processing an Export-Import Bank loan to Mexico that would provide $5.6 billion over five years for this purpose. The Mexican constitution forbids equity investment by foreigners in its oil industry, which until nationalized in 1938 was largely American-owned.
"For the first time, the services of American companies will be welcome and sought after with regard to drilling and other supplies in the American oil fields," Brady said, although he noted that American companies still will not be allowed to own or buy into Mexican oil production companies.
Many U.S. businesses see investment opportunities in Mexico, but organized labor has argued that a free-trade pact would result in the export of American manufacturing jobs to firms hiring low-wage workers south of the U.S. border. Many of those already are American companies.
Bush has notified Congress of his desire to negotiate the agreement on a "fast-track" basis, but he cannot proceed until Congress approves. That is unlikely until next spring. U.S. officials said they do not expect to conclude a treaty until 1992.
Bush brought along a large contingent of top administration officials for his meetings here with President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and his cabinet. The talks touched on anti-drug policy, environmental problems, immigration, the civil war in El Salvador and the conflict in the Persian Gulf.
Salinas said Mexico supports the United Nations resolutions condemning Iraq, and Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said he expected Mexico would support a resolution authorizing force.
The meetings produced no significant agreements and resulted in a blandly worded joint communique and assurances to work together in coming months.
The trip came at a time when Salinas faces criticism at home over whether he has moved to bring about fairness to Mexico's political system, dominated for 60 years by the institutional revolutionary party, known as PRI.
Bush saved his passion today for his references to the drug issue, echoing rhetoric he has used to denounce Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "Let no one doubt our resolve," he said. "We will not be divided against each other, dissuaded from seeking justice or frightened into submission. We must not flag or fail. We must and we will win together this war on drugs."
He also referred obliquely to one irritant in the U.S.-Mexico relationship, the 1985 torture-killing in Mexico of Drug Enforcement Agency agent Enrique Camarena, whom the president called "a hero." The two countries are in a legal dispute over whether the United States should return a Mexicanwho has been indicted in the United States in the Camarena case.