America's businesses need to focus on the three T's of trade, technology and training if they want to succeed in the future, U.S. Commerce Secretary William M. Daley said Thursday.

And that means companies, governments and schools must team up to make sure workers gain the skills they need to keep pace with changing times."Businesses have to work with schools to get our young people ready," Daley said, after speaking at a Salt Lake City fund-raising breakfast for Lily Eskelsen, Democratic candidate for the state's 2nd Congressional District seat.

Regarding the "T" of trade, Daley said he still thinks the North American Free Trade Agreement he helped shepherd through Congress in 1993 has been good for the United States, Canada and Mexico.

"Mexico and Canada are two of our top three trading partners," Daley said. "We export a lot of goods to them, and we import a lot from them."

The agreement is not perfect, he said, especially when it comes to environmental protection.

But he is confident it will survive a lawsuit filed last week by the United Steelworkers of America and the Made in the USA Foundation, which claim that NAFTA is unconstitutional because it is a treaty and did not receive a two-thirds vote in the Senate.

"We feel we're on very strong grounds, because Congress passed it. We didn't pass it," Daley said.

The ground is a little shakier when it comes to Asia.

Daley said U.S. businesses are starting to see large drops in exports as a result of the ongoing Asian financial crisis. Exports to Korea alone are down 45 percent, he said.

"The vast majority of the problem is the result of Japan's economic stagnation . . .," Daley said. "There's no doubt (the Asian crisis is) having an impact that is negative to many companies."

But the overall U.S. economy continues to roll, he said, and its broad base should help it maintain its dominance.

"Most states are doing what we didn't do in the '70s and '80s, and that is diversify," he said.

Utah has followed that trend by strengthening its high technology and manufacturing sectors, Daley said, and tourism will play an ever-larger part in growth here.

"The boom for the Olympics in 2002 is going to be incredible," he said. "The challenge will be, what do we have after (it's over) and what do we do with this?"

Daley will face one of his greatest challenges a couple years before the 2002 Winter Games come to Utah, as his Commerce Department is responsible for running the 2000 census.

Plans for that nationwide count have stirred controversy in Congress, which may hold up funding for the Census Bureau.

The bureau plans to use statistical sampling to account for households that are missed in door-to-door head counts in 2000. But some Republicans in Congress oppose that method, Daley said, because they think it will hurt their representation in Congress.

Daley said he does not understand that argument. The 1990 census was the first in U.S. history to be less accurate than the one before, he said, and use of sampling will help fix that problem in 2000.

High-growth states like Utah should be pushing for the best possible count, Daley said, because more than just representation depends on it.

"If you don't have an accurate count, you're going to get less (federal) money than you deserve to," he said. "That's not the way it ought to be."