Ford Motor Co. and Operation PUSH culminated six years of negotiations by signing an agreement to promote "mutual affirmative action goals" that will target $541 million to minority businesses next year.

Peter J. Pestillo, vice president of employee and external affairs for Ford, said Tuesday's agreement formalizes a process that began in 1982."Ford has been working hard to help open doors for minorities," Pestillo said. "Today we are pledging to continue to seek improvements for blacks in all functional areas of the company."

While the signed agreement itself does not specify amounts that Ford will direct to minority businesses, it pledges to "set quantifiable benchmarks wherever feasible, and ... measure progress in all affected areas."

Ford has "set the pace" for hiring, promoting and doing business with minority companies, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the founder of Operation PUSH, said Tuesday at a joint news conference to announce the agreement.