NAFTA countries OK Chile's entry

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MIAMI -- President Clinton and the leaders of Canada and Mexico said yesterday that they had agreed to admit Chile into the North American Free Trade Agreement, a move that clearly puts pressure on the other nations of South and Central America to speed up the opening of their markets if they want expanded trade with the United States.

The announcement came at the conclusion of a harmonious three-day summit meeting.

Mr. Clinton and 33 other leaders from the Western Hemisphere -- only Cuba was excluded -- agreed to conclude a treaty within a HTC decade to create a free-trade zone for the Americas.

But Mr. Clinton's aides made clear yesterday that they hope the process would actually be much speedier as the countries of South and Central America race to reform their economies and to meet a still loosely defined set of requirements for joining the year-old pact known as NAFTA.

"This should be evidence that we intend to accelerate the process" of eliminating a wide variety of trade barriers that still slow commerce across the two continents, Mr. Clinton said yesterday.

A broader goal is also at work: The administration makes no secret of its efforts to use the prospect of trade liberalization in Latin America to put pressure on European Union and Asian countries -- where the United States will have a trade deficit of nearly $100 billion this year -- to open their own markets.

"The Europeans will be encouraged, to use a delicate word, to be more open in a number of areas we have been concerned about," said Mickey Kantor, the U.S. trade representative, in an interview yesterday. "And the Asians will also be encouraged to go in this direction, or they too will be left behind."

The administration saw reason for celebration yesterday over the speed at which the Latin American countries have become converts to free trade after decades of competing for U.S. foreign aid and of playing the United States and the former Soviet Union against each other for influence in the region.

L But the celebration did not drown out some signs of discord.

Some human rights and labor groups criticized the administration for placing business first, contending that the communique approved yesterday made only vague acknowledgments of the need to protect worker rights and the )) environment, and said nothing about broader human rights issues.

Chile's accession to NAFTA has been expected for some time. The country has been widely regarded as the free-market gem of Latin America after privatizing all but 50 of its 500 state-owned enterprises, slashing tariffs, greatly liberalizing its markets and welcoming foreign investment.

The result has been a decade of uninterrupted growth and a steady rise in wages.

The administration expects little real opposition to Chile's inclusion, partly because of the country's small size.

Its admission into NAFTA is expected to pave the way for far larger economic powers, including Brazil and Argentina.

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