Gore will discuss NAFTA during his visit to Mexico



MEXICO CITY (AP)—The North American Free Trade Agreement will help the United States and Mexico overcome shared uncertainties, Vice President Al Gore said Tuesday as he traveled south to reinforce the Clinton administration’s push to expand economic ties with Latin America.

‘‘This agreement represents a commitment by our two nations to face the future as economic partners,’‘ Gore said at a festive airport arrival ceremony attended by Mexican officials, flag-waving schoolchildren and reporters.

He said the two countries ‘‘have a common bond in that both of our nations are faced with uncertainties and we share the joy that NAFTA responds to those uncertainties that link our two nations in an equal partnership.’‘

Before leaving Washington, Gore stood with President Clinton and seven Central American leaders at the White House as Clinton held out the passage of NAFTA as a ‘‘catalyst for the expansion of free trade to other market democracies throughout the hemisphere.’‘

Gore, assuming a more visible role in U.S. foreign policy, said he was meeting with Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari late Tuesday and again Wednesday ‘‘on specific nuts and bolts strategies for implementing NAFTA as quickly and as smoothly as possible.’‘

On Wednesday, he also is scheduled to deliver what Clinton called ‘‘a major address on American engagement in Latin America’‘ at the national auditorium in Mexico City.

Gore spokeswoman Lorraine Voles said the trip was designed to work out final details before NAFTA takes effect on Jan. 1, but that there were no major sticking points with the Mexicans.

The vice president said he wanted to personally congratulate Salinas on passage of the pact, which would link the United States, Mexico and Canada in the world’s largest free-trade zone. It would gradually remove tariffs and other barriers to trade and investment over the next 15 years.

U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor said one of the things Gore planned to discuss was the process that should be set up for other Latin American countries to join the free-trade agreement.

Officials of Chile and other countries have discussed their desires to join NAFTA and Clinton often referred to the expansion of NAFTA beyond Mexico as one of the biggest benefits that would come if Congress approved the trade pact.

Accompanying Gore were White House chief of staff Mack McLarty; Hattie Babbitt, U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States; and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner.

Concerns about pollution along the U.S.-Mexican border and protection of U.S. workers were among the primary concerns of critics of the free-trade pact. Organized labor argues that the pact will send hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs flowing south to lower-wage Mexico.

The vice president’s trip came as Mexicans were largely focused on political upheaval and cabinet reshuffling after the ruling party nominated its candidate for the 1994 elections. Among those Gore was meeting with was Luis Donaldo Colosio, endorsed by Salinas to succeed him.

Gore is emerging as a more prominent advocate for U.S. foreign policy. His debate with Ross Perot helped the administration overcome stiff opposition to NAFTA from some Democratic congressional leaders and organized labor.

Before leaving Tuesday, Gore promoted an administration project to get private sector investment in the Middle East. Next month, he travels to Moscow to help lay the groundwork for Clinton’s January summit with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Gore played down his growing role overseas. ‘‘It really is largely coincidental that all of these events have been clustered at the end of the year,’‘ he said.