HOUSE SUPPORTERS OF MEXICO TALKS CONFIDENT ABOUT TRADE AGREEMENT

HOUSE SUPPORTERS OF MEXICO TALKS CONFIDENT ABOUT TRADE AGREEMENT

Five House supporters of free-trade talks with Mexico said they are confident an agreement can be reached this spring, but they were divided on whether there are enough votes in Congress to pass it.

The five, who returned Monday from a trip to Mexico with U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills, outlined the major issues that still divide negotiators in the talks. But all agreed that they could be settled under a schedule that calls for submitting the text to Congress in March or early April at the latest.While they said none of the issues were insurmountable, the lawmakers agreed that President Bush would have to make more of a commitment to the environment, job retraining and border infrastructure to secure enough votes to pass the agreement in 1992.

Rep. Ron Coleman, D-Texas, who said he would support the agreement if the president agrees to spend more money on all three of these areas, advised his colleagues who might be struggling with how to vote on the pact if it comes to Congress.

"If you want to vote 'no,' hang your vote on the environment," he said. ''That will be the easiest way to justify it."

Without more spending on roads and bridges along the border, on cleanup of water pollution and a program for workers dislocated by Mexican imports, "I don't think there are the votes to pass it," Rep. Coleman said.

Rep. Albert Bustamante, D-Texas, agreed with him.

Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., who also accompanied Mrs. Hills in Mexico, said he believed there were enough votes in Congress to pass the agreement this year. He said he was certain that the administration was ready to bring the pact to Congress if it is completed this spring.

Two Arizona House Republicans said they believed President Bush had made a commitment to Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari at a meeting in

December to complete the agreement and send it to Congress this year. Jim Kolbe and John Rhodes declined to predict if there would be enough support in Congress to pass an agreement.

The five lawmakers, some of whom said they had inspected a provisional text of the agreement, identified some major issues that must be resolved among the negotiators. Among them were Mexican complaints about U.S. laws restricting interstate banking activities, which they said would limit access for Mexican banks.

Other issues are: defining investment that would be covered by the agreement; rules of origin to determine goods that would get preferential treatment under the pact; and Mexican demands that the United States amend its anti-dumping and countervailing duty laws under a free trade agreement.

Rep. Kolbe said none of these differences was a "deal-breaker." He was convinced that Mexico and the United would sign an agreement, although "I can't say it will definitely be this year, but I hope so."

Trade ministers for Mexico, Canada and the United States are expected to meet Sunday and Monday in the Washington, D.C., area to try to remove some of the "brackets" in the draft text, said Rep. Kolbe. The brackets represent the areas where the countries disagree.

A meeting of negotiators at the end of the month in Dallas represents the final scheduled event in the talks.