In an effort to broaden export opportunities for small firms, U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown will lead a group of minority entrepreneurs on a trade visit to Mexico next month.

The visit is part of a year-old minority matchmakers program intended to foster relationships between minority-owned and Mexican businesses. The program is considered a key element of the Commerce's Export Mexico program.It "is the physical implementation of the Clinton administration's commitment to helping minority businesses grown and prosper," Mr. Brown said.

The trade mission is scheduled to leave for Mexico City in early

December. Nearly 30 firms, a dozen of which will be from California, are participating.

Events planned to help the companies take full advantage of the trip include an exhibit booth and product display at a major trade show, a schedule of appointments with prospective partners and a briefing on local business practices.

The agenda also includes breakfast with Secretary Brown, an overview of government-sponsored trade finance programs, a reception hosted by the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, and follow-up counseling by foreign commercial service trade specialists.

Participants were selected based on assessment of their business prospects in Mexico. Most of the companies - which are involved in everything

from health supplies to engineering to environmental services - have between one and 50 employees and less than $75 million in annual sales.

"We are looking at the infrequent exporter, helping the small company that needs the assistance but is export ready and in a position to realize sales and commercial opportunities," said Judith Riendeau, manager of the matchmaker program.

The U.S. Small Business Administration, International Trade Administration and the Export-Import Bank also are involved in the matchmaker program.

Judy Dorsey, president of Conway Engineering Inc., in Oakland, Calif., said the program is "an offer we can't refuse."

"This has been one of the weak links in our company, that we haven't been doing any exporting. We need to be involved with Mexico, and especially Telmex," the national telephone company, she said.

Her company manufactures telecommunication, industrial monitoring and video terminal products for telephone companies and public utilities.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how our Mexican counterparts will treat us when they find out the company is owned by a woman and the president is a woman," Ms. Dorsey said.

Asked if she felt being a minority would matter in Mexico, she said, "I don't think they will even care. I thinking they will only care about what types of products we have to bring them."