WASHINGTON — U.S., Mexican and Canadian officials resume talks this week on the North American Free Trade Agreement in an effort to hammer out side deals on jobs and the environment that President Clinton says are essential to the accord.
At the core of the negotiations, which start here Wednesday, will be who pays for cleaning up the U.S.-Mexico border and protecting workers and their jobs in what would be the world's biggest free-trade zone.
The issues include substandard working conditions in Mexico and job losses in the United States, as well as industrial pollution along the border, which will cost $15 billion to clean up by some estimates.
Mexico has committed $450 million to the cleanup, according to U.S. officials, and Clinton is seeking ways to cut the budget deficit, so it is not easy to see where the money will come from.
"At a time when budget cuts are underway, it is hard to imagine extra U.S. funding to clean up the border," said Isaac Cohen, who heads the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America's Washington office.
He said it was easier to picture the Administration setting aside funds to retrain and relocate American workers who may lose their jobs if, as expected, the flow of U.S. companies to the other side of the border intensifies with NAFTA.
Other talks on the side deals will follow this week's session. Although there is no formal deadline, negotiators will be under pressure to conclude them by summer so that they can be sent to the legislatures accompanying the main NAFTA legislation.
U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor told lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week that special commissions would be set up to deal with those and other NAFTA side effects.
"We will not bring the NAFTA to the Hill without good, solid, meaningful, concrete, supplemental agreements," Kantor told lawmakers.
He reaffirmed that the goal is to have NAFTA passed by all three national legislatures and in place by Jan. 1, 1994.
Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.) told Kantor: "The votes are not there for the approval of NAFTA. . . . In fact, I even question whether or not we will have the ability to pass NAFTA at any time in the future."
But trade experts say such statements should be viewed cautiously.
"If you want to win more concessions from the Mexicans, this is the time to put on the pressure, and the time to make them a little bit nervous," an international trade official said.