Mexican president-elect details plan for an open border with U.S.

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Mexico's president-elect proposed a new era in U.S.-Mexico relations on Thursday, saying it is in the United States' best interests to help its southern neighbor prepare for open borders and a common market.

Vicente Fox, who will travel to the United States and Canada next week, said those countries should help Mexico develop in the way that rich European countries helped the economies of Spain and Greece grow in advance of tearing down their border fences.

''The central idea is that together, we can build a better future for our nations,'' he said in a meeting with American journalists. ''It's not give-away aid, but rather a plan in which we all win.''

Fox was elected July 2, ending 71 years of single-party rule in Mexico. During the campaign and since his election, he has pledged a new vision for Mexico, and relations with the United States are a key part of that vision.

While Fox has spoken before of his long-term dream of a common North American market, he hadn't specified how he planned to achieve it - or how he would make it palatable to the United States and Canada.

On Thursday, he described for the first time a plan in which a gradual opening of markets and borders would be accompanied by specific economic goals on Mexico's part - goals set in negotiations with the two North American countries.

''We would have clear goals over 5-10 years - especially in the case of Mexico - in terms of inflation, in terms of interest rates, in terms of budget deficits,'' he said. ''These goals would be agreed to by the three countries.''

He said the opening of the border could occur gradually, possibly beginning with free transit within a certain border zone, or with a greater number of temporary visas for Mexican workers.

Fox said Mexico would be willing to make concessions to achieve a common market, including working to reduce illegal immigration - something Mexico has long insisted is largely the United States' responsibility - and bringing its environmental standards up to U.S. levels.

''I'll be the first to admit that at this moment we can't'' open the borders, Fox said. ''It's a process.''

But he predicted that the United States and Canada would agree to the plan, because he said it's in their best interests.

''The best thing that could happen to the United States is to have a successful Mexico, a Mexico without poverty, a Mexico without violence, a Mexico without drug smuggling, a Mexico with employment opportunities for all, where people don't have to migrate to the United States,'' he said.

''It's a question of convenience. It's a question of intelligence. It's a question of brotherhood, of friendship, of solidarity.''

He said the North American Free Trade Agreement was based entirely on ''the bottom line,'' and insisted new agreements should be made more in the spirit of partners.

Indeed, the idea of a benevolent United States figures heavily into Fox's proposal. In order to rewrite more than a century of relations between the two countries, he is counting on a great deal of good will from Mexico's northern neighbor.

Fox repeatedly mentioned the history of the European Union, in which richer European countries insisted on decades of economic changes among their poorer neighbors - along with large amounts of aid - to bring their economies into line.

Once the poorer countries had more comparable economies, the EU was formed, removing border guards and opening trade between the member nations.

''It doesn't necessarily have to be the same'' as the European Union, Fox said. ''But they can serve as inspiration for us.''

Next week, Fox will take these ideas to the United States and Canada. On Tuesday he will meet with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and on Wednesday will meet with business leaders in Toronto.

He will dine Wednesday night with leaders of the Mexican community in New York before heading to Washington for meetings Thursday with Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The following day, he will fly to Dallas to meet with George W. Bush, the Republican presidential candidate, before returning home.

Fox, who reportedly felt pushed aside by Gore and Bush during his own campaign, laughed when asked who he preferred.

''They're the same,'' he said. ''They say I stick my foot in my mouth a lot, but this time I'm not going to.''


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