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O.C. Businesses Told of Opportunity in Mexico : Conference: Lowered barriers for once-protected industries can increase exports, a trade-pact official tells executives.


ANAHEIM — Hermann von Bertrab, Mexico's chief negotiator for the U.S.-Mexico Free Trade Agreement, told Orange County business executives Tuesday that his country's effort to modernize its once-protected industries can provide their companies with export opportunities.

"Mexico needs to modernize its entire infrastructure--everything from handling systems in seaports, to making our harbors more efficient, to improving our telephone systems," he said.

While Orange County's economic recovery may be going slowly, Von Bertrab said, Mexico's plans to improve its telecommunication systems, clean up its environment and build more roads can mean increased exports for Orange County companies. And Mexico can help U.S. manufacturers become more competitive globally by providing a pool of low-wage workers in such labor-intensive industries as computer assembly and garment manufacturing, he said.

"Orange County companies are receptive and adaptable to change, but these are not enough to keep them competitive," Von Bertrab said. "Mexico is not just a market to sell to but a market to share with American companies."

Von Bertrab spoke before an audience of about 900 business people, educators and government officials during the county Chamber of Commerce's 29th annual Orange County Economic Conference in Anaheim.

In the last five years, the Mexican government brought its national economy from one of the most protected from foreign investors to a more open one, he said, adding that this transition will continue with the help of U.S. companies.

Mexican and U.S. officials are currently negotiating a free-trade agreement that, if ratified, could develop into a pact that would phase out tariffs and restrictions on most goods and services traded between the United States, Mexico and Canada. The pact is expected to bring a wealth of economic benefits to California, where the state's exports to Mexico reached $4.7 billion in 1990.

One environmental-consulting company with offices in Irvine is planning to open a Mexico City office in anticipation of the trade pact.

"Mexico's equivalent to our EPA is in the process of adding new air quality control regulations to existing ones that will eventually become comparable to ours," said Richard R. Beauregard, who attended the conference as senior program manager of operations in Irvine for Radian Corp. "If the Mexican government follows through with their plans to strengthen their environmental laws and the free-trade agreement is ratified, there's going to be a lot of growth for us in that market."

Kenneth L. Nicolas, a Newport Beach trade consultant who spoke after Von Bertrab, said that Eastern European nations also need U.S. environmental equipment and services, including Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, where technology is needed to clean up pollution caused by aging, inefficient factories.

Other potential exports to Eastern Europe include medical diagnostic equipment, such as pregnancy-testing kits and devices that help detect infectious diseases, such as AIDS. Food-processing equipment, such as industrial freezers, and packaging machines are also in demand.

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