Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, abandoning his Spanish text to address his critics in English, said Friday that millions of his countrymen would seek jobs in the United States unless a North American free trade zone is created.
The change from Spanish to English in a public address stunned his audience and signaled the extent of his determination to push for a free-trade zone with the United States and Canada.Salinas put down his Spanish text after a luncheon speech to say in English that those who argue a free-trade pact would rob the United States of jobs are "wrong."
"It is clear that, without the agreement, there is a real prospect of generating a flow of millions of migrants seeking jobs in the United States," he said. "We want to export products, not people."
Salinas denied U.S. companies would flee to Mexico so they could pay lower wages and avoid tougher environmental laws in the United States and Canada.
Salinas stressed his country's "irrevocable" commitment to stronger environmental regulations, citing the recent decision to close one of Mexico's five oil refineries because of pollution.
"We want our children and the children of our children to live in a better world, in which no one does harm to the environment," Salinas said.
Salinas said North America must create a free-trade zone, which would be the world's largest, in response to European and Pacific Rim agreements.
A pact covering Canada, Mexico and the United States would result in a combined population of 362 million, gross national product of $5.9 trillion and total trade of $225 billion.
"If we let this rare opportunity go by, it may mean that competitiveness will fall and then there will be fewer jobs in all three countries," Salinas said.
Salinas, who was scheduled to speak to San Antonio business and government leaders again Saturday, earlier Friday became the first president of Mexico to address the Texas Legislature.
"U.S. jobs are not threatened by countries like mine that have different wage scales, but rather by countries with high wages and a high degree of competitiveness," he told his audience in Austin.