Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

A Fast Deal With Mexico Unlikely

April 01, 1990

A free-trade agreement between Mexico and the United States is one of those ideas that looks great on paper but could be very hard to make work in the real world. But it's good that the two governments have agreed to talk about it.

Reducing the many trade, investment and labor barriers between Mexico and the United States, in theory at least, makes a great deal of sense. Mexico is poor, with a young and fast-growing population. It needs the investment and technology the United States has to offer. The United States needs the oil and other natural resources Mexico has, including cheap labor. And a nearby market of 100 million Mexicans eager to buy U.S.-made goods sounds exciting, too.

That's why it was big news last week when the Bush Administration revealed that top U.S. officials have met privately with their Mexican counterparts to discuss the possibility of negotiating a U.S.-Mexico free-trade agreement similar to a pact signed with Canada in 1988. But how even that tentative announcement was greeted in each country is very revealing.

U.S. newspapers played it on the front page, befitting the importance of a plan that could create a common market of 350 million people from the Arctic Circle to Yucatan. Mexican media played it up too, but with a decidedly different spin: Their stories featured comments from Mexicans denouncing the plan, like the intellectual who warned that "our way of life is at stake."

You don't have to be an expert on Mexico to know that kind of rhetoric means trouble for President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. While many Mexicans like and even admire their powerful northern neighbor, they genuinely worry about their economy, even their very culture, being overwhelmed if Mexicans buy all the American blue jeans, Coke and rock records they can get their hands on. And these are not just leftist intellectuals in Mexico City: Some conservative Mexican businessmen don't relish the thought of competing with U.S. companies, either.

To complicate matters further, Mexico could fairly ask for things under a free-trade agreement that would drive many U.S. citizens up a wall, such as an open border Mexicans could cross at will to look for jobs in the United States. Law-enforcement officials and labor unions, to mention just a couple of not-insignificant interest groups, would howl in protest over that one.

With all the similarities of language, culture and economic development between Canada and the United States, it took three years to hammer out a free-trade agreement, and it'll take another 10 to phase it into full operation. Given the greater disparities between the United States and Mexico, a similar agreement may take decades. So we'll have plenty of time to debate its merits. And it will be debated--widely and loudly--in both countries.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|