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Mexico Employing Extensive Lobbying Crusade for NAFTA

By James Gerstenzang
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

The Mexican government has unleashed the most expensive and elaborate foreign lobbying campaign ever undertaken in this country, hoping to ensure passage of the trade agreement it wants with the United States and Canada, a non-profit research organization reported Thursday.

And as Mexico's lobbying for the North American Free Trade Agreement came under scrutiny, the White House was considering establishing a special unit to counter billionaire industrialist Ross Perot's efforts to defeat the agreement.

"There is significant concern" about Perot's anticipated campaign to defeat the agreement, a Democratic source close to the White House said. He said aides to President Clinton were contemplating a rapid-response effort similar to that employed by the Clinton presidential campaign.

Perot has purchased a half-hour of network television time on Sunday evening as part of his public crusade to defeat the agreement.

Meanwhile, in Canada -- where the agreement is widely opposed -- Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on Thursday used his strong majority in Parliament to ram ratification through the House of Commons.

The agreement now goes to the Canadian Senate, which also is controlled by Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives.

Mexico's U.S. effort to ensure approval by the U.S. Congress has cost more than the previous three largest foreign lobbying campaigns combined -- one each by South Korea, Japan and Kuwait -- in the past quarter-century, according to the Center for Public Integrity, an organization partly funded by labor unions that conducted a lengthy study of Justice Department records.

Since 1989 Mexico has spent $25 million in seeking the support of politicians and the American public for NAFTA and is likely to spend as much as $10 million more as the issue comes to a vote in Congress later this year, the center found. The 1993 figure is similar to an estimate offered by Mexico's ambassador to the United States, Jorge Montano, in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times.

The study presents a look at how the money is being spent and portrays a concerted effort to sign up former U.S. government officials to present Mexico's case. In addition, it found that others who have pressed in the past for approval of the treaty are now members of the Clinton administration.

While the director of the study, Charles Lewis, said that the lobbying campaign breaks no laws, it does highlight the extent to which the agreement's proponents are going to gain approval in what both sides concede will be a very close contest.