MEXICO CITY — In an effort to ease the way toward completion of the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement, the Mexican government Wednesday said it will withdraw its $3.75-million stake in a fund set up to buy U.S. companies and move part of their manufacturing to Mexico.
The announcement was a swift reaction to the disclosure in Washington on Tuesday of the existence of the AmeriMex Maquiladora Fund by House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), an influential congressional opponent of NAFTA.
Gephardt, who sent an angry letter to Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari accusing the Mexican government of participating "in stealing American jobs," distributed copies of the fund's prospectus showing the 25% stake held by Nacional Financiera, or Nafinsa, as Mexico's national development bank is known.
The issue surfaced just one day before U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor was scheduled to meet with Mexican Commerce Minister Jaime Serra Puche and provided ammunition for NAFTA critics, who argue that it will encourage U.S. companies, seeking to lower their labor costs, to move jobs to Mexico.
Kantor said Serra Puche provided assurances that Nafinsa had already begun phasing out its investment in AmeriMex and would have no involvement within several weeks. Kantor had said the United States would postpone NAFTA talks on labor and environmental standards until problems posed by the AmeriMex fund were resolved.
"He acted quickly and effectively. I was very impressed by it and pleased," Kantor said. A Mexican government official, who asked not to be named, confirmed that the investment will be withdrawn.
The Mexican government was taken aback by the negative reaction to the fund.
Since Nafinsa invested in the fund a year ago, it has bought a U.S. textile company and moved 40% of its production to Merida, the Yucatan state capital.
Times staff writer James Gerstenzang in Washington contributed to this report.