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White House Unveils Fund to Clean Up Border : Trade: The $5-billion loan program as well as the plans to seek worker retraining money are designed to clear obstacles to NAFTA in Congress.

September 14, 1993|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — As President Clinton readied his fight for congressional approval of a three-way trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, his Administration on Monday unveiled plans for a $5-billion fund to pay for cleaning up the polluted U.S.-Mexican border.

Administration officials hope that the fund, along with additional spending to pay for retraining workers who lose their jobs as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, will provide enough votes to overcome strong opposition among skeptical members of the House and Senate.

Clinton, with former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald R. Ford and George Bush looking on, plans to sign supplements today to the trade agreement that are intended to protect the environment and workers' rights. Today's ceremony will be the first public event of a multifaceted Administration campaign to put the trade pact into effect by Jan. 1.

In their attempt to fend off critics who argue that the agreement will result in the loss of jobs to Mexico, Clinton and his aides have begun emphasizing the role the agreement could have--along with the Administration's health care plan and its efforts to streamline government--in reviving the nation's economy, and have said that it will boost jobs in the United States by increasing exports.

And, in an effort to undercut concerns by some environmentalists that the agreement would allow Mexico to continue fueling cross-border air and water pollution, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen said Monday that the Administration would press ahead with plans for the $5-billion environmental fund.

Officials had spoken in recent weeks about the fund but only in general terms, indicating that plans were being drawn up to provide "seed money" for a development bank that would pay for the costs of cleaning up the border.

Bentsen told a small group of reporters Monday that the United States and Mexico will create a Border Environment Administration to "coordinate and oversee" the program to reduce water and air pollution and manage the disposal of solid waste.

He said that, while funding would be tied to the Inter-American Development Bank, a quasi-public international financing agency, "all policy and lending decisions would be made by U.S. and Mexican officials on the board" of the environmental agency.

The funds would be loaned to pay for projects to clean up pollution, with the United States and Mexico splitting start-up costs evenly, Bentsen said. He said that as much of the financing as possible would be met with revenue bonds in each country. The funds would require congressional approval.

Bentsen discussed the border cleanup plan on the eve of the kickoff of the Administration's campaign, one of the most politically difficult but, officials say, economically important issues it will undertake in coming months.

The White House hopes that the debate over the trade pact can be wrapped up in time for a vote in November or, more likely, in December, so that the Jan. 1 target date to implement the agreement can be met.

The 2,000-page pact--negotiated by the Bush Administration, the Brian Mulroney government in Canada and the Mexican administration of Carlos Salinas de Gortari--would eliminate tariffs and other obstacles to free trade from Canada to Mexico and create a single market of 360 million potential customers.

The ceremony today will be followed by Clinton's trip to New Orleans Wednesday to draw attention to the job-creating prospects of the agreement.

While Clinton carries the ball in drawing public attention to the agreement, a parade of Cabinet officials will testify before House and Senate committees today and Wednesday to present the Administration's case to Congress.

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