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Clinton Continues His Campaign For Congress' Support of NAFTA

By Ann Devroy and Peter Behr
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

President Clinton Monday predicted that the United States' international competitors will themselves forge free trade agreements with Mexico if Congress fails to approve the North American Free Trade Agreement, giving nations such as Japan an economic windfall at U.S. expense.

Clinton stepped up the effort to more directly lay out what the administration describes as "the real costs" of passing up the trade pact. "If we walk away from this," Clinton said, Mexico will likely "make the same deal with Europe or Japan" to eliminate all tariffs between their nations.

"If Congress votes this down on the 17th of November, I would, if I were the prime minister of Japan, have the finance minister of my country in to see the president of Mexico on the 18th of November," Clinton said.

In the final weeks before the House votes on NAFTA, the White House will try to lay out the benefits of approving the three-nation trade pact, the disadvantages of rejecting it and the theme that policy-makers across several presidencies and both parties endorse the pact as good for the nation.

Tuesday, six former secretaries of the treasury, five former secretaries of state, eight Nobel Prize winners in economics, several former trade representatives and national security advisers and dozens of others will appear in the East Room of the White House to add their votes of support.

Opponents, however, do not claim the pact lacks establishment or business support. What they claim is that thousands of U.S. workers will lose their jobs across the border to Mexico as corporations locate there to make products that can be shipped to the United States with no market restraints. The opposition includes major labor unions and a large chunk of Democratic members of Congress

The president, in his remarks and in exchanges with business owners attending the event, said that the agreement will give U.S. firms a competitive advantage in Mexico because Mexican tariffs will be eliminated on U.S. goods while the tariffs will remain on the goods and products of other nations.

NAFTA, Clinton said, "has acquired an enormous significance because of the advantage it will give us in the Mexican market over our competitors in Japan and Europe and because of the leverage that it will then give us to get a worldwide trade agreement."

Meanwhile, the administration's campaign to pick up House votes continues to grind forward through case-by-case lobbying with individual legislators.

A few key opportunities remain to swing clusters of votes, mostly on farm issues where members want additional protection against Mexican imports.