SALINAS WINS OK FOR US-MEXICO TRADE PACT

SALINAS WINS OK FOR US-MEXICO TRADE PACT

President Salinas got the green light he wanted when the Mexican Senate approved a 60-page report recommending a free trade agreement between Mexico and the United States, say business observers here.

Less than a month after President Carlos Salinas de Gortari initiated a month-long national debate on international trade, the Senate issued a report advocating the establishment of an accord with its northern neighbor.The report stops short, however, of recommending the creation of a common market that would include Mexico, the United States and Canada, said a Senate spokesman.

The report also urges the country to begin diversifying its trading strategy and develop commercial relations with all countries, said the spokesman.

The Senate issued its report Monday after holding a series of seven meetings around the country to gain the input of politicians, university professors, business executives, housewives and journalists.

"Salinas was geared to an agreement with the U.S. and Mexico and was taking the issue to the Senate for the Senate to say yes," said Ignacio Beteta, director general of the Bureau of Industrial Promotion. "He wanted to be able to say 'this is what the public wants, it's not my imposition, it's what the Senate recommends.' "

Roland Clarke, an economist with Economia Aplicada SC, agrees. "Salinas had already decided," said Mr. Clarke, referring to the Salinas administration's decision to move ahead with a free trade agreement before the Senate hearings began April 25.

"They want to say we've gone around the world and done everything we could to try and increase exports," Mr. Clarke said. "But they've already decided to negotiate with the United States."

President Salinas began his National Consultation on Trade Relations between Mexico and the World just a month after Mexican and U.S. government officials acknowledged they had agreed to discuss a bilateral free trade agreement in February.

Each session of the national forum centered on Mexico's trade relations with a different part of the world, including the Pacific Rim, North America, Europe and Africa.

Mexican business community observers say President Salinas is trying to head off political problems by building public consensus for his decision to negotiate a free trade agreement with the United States.

"He didn't want people to say that 'Salinas is a dictator,' " Mr. Beteta said. "Sentiment is changing a lot. Before no one wanted a free trade agreement. The strategy is to carry out the free-trade plans."

President Salinas is scheduled next month to visit Washington, D.C., where he has an informal meeting with President Bush and a speech before the Business Roundtable.