Mexican Senate debates NAFTA, assures passage



MEXICO CITY (AP)—Mexican lawmakers moved Monday to give their final stamp of approval to the North American Free Trade Agreement, despite last-minute pleas from opposition leaders to reject the pact as unfair.

Sen. Porfirio Munoz Ledo of the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party told his fellow senators the agreement favored Mexico’s powerful neighbors to the north.

He said NAFTA, which would join Mexico with the United States and Canada in the world’s largest trade zone, was a ‘‘colonial-type pact’‘ that will ‘‘turn our country over to the foreigners.’‘

Despite Munoz Ledo’s comments, Senate approval of the free trade pact was virtually assured when lawmakers voted later Monday.

The governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, controls 61 of the 64 Senate seats. Under Mexican law, a vote of the lower House of Deputies was not required to approve the treaty legislation.

Many NAFTA opponents here worry that opening the borders will give the United States greater control over their economy, politics and culture.

They also say Mexico will be unable to control the flood of American and Canadian investors setting up shop south of the border because they will receive the same treatment as Mexican companies under NAFTA.

Free-trade proponents say NAFTA will create jobs in Mexico and help raise the standard of living.

After Munoz Ledo spoke, PRI Sen. Carlos Sales Gutierrez accused Munoz Ledo of making ‘‘false statements.’‘

‘‘The country you see and the country I see are very different, sir,’‘ Sales Gutierrez said.

NAFTA passed its toughest test last week when it was ratified by the U.S. House of Representatives following much lobbying by President Clinton. It later easily passed the U.S. Senate.

The Canadian Parliament approved the pact in May, but newly elected Prime Minister Jean Chretien has said he wants some parts reworked before he will give it the final OK.

Chretien wants better rules on what constitutes a subsidy and what sort of sanctions should be imposed for trade violations. He also wants the same protection for energy resources that Mexico won for its oil industry.

The agreement between Mexico, the United States and Canada would create the world’s largest economic market, encompassing 363 million people and a combined gross domestic product of $6.3 trillion.

Scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, the agreement over 15 years would phase out most remaining barriers to the free flow of goods, services and investment among the three North American neighbors.

Commerce Secretary Jaime Serra Puche defended NAFTA on national television Sunday, calling it fair.

PRD presidential candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas’ recent statements that the pact was ‘‘negotiated on the backs of the Mexican people’‘ make no sense, Serra Puche added during an interview.

Angered by Cardenas’ sniping at the treaty he negotiated, Serra Puche had challenged Cardenas last week to a live, televised debate. It was perhaps the first time that the PRI has ever offered such a forum to a political foe.

Cardenas said the offer came too late to affect the content of the pact.