Chile's President Eduardo Frei yesterday took his case directly to the US Congress in a new but apparently unsuccessful attempt to break the logjam over his country's bid to become the fourth member of Nafta, the North American Free Trade Agreement that links the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Addressing a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives, Mr Frei urged his audience to "leave fears and distrust behind," and remove the barriers to free trade throughout the Americas. But reaction to his 30-minute speech was largely sceptical, leaving little doubt that opposition to expanded free trade in the Western hemisphere is, if anything, growing in Washington.
Though the Clinton Administration backs Chile, its admission is being stymied by opposition from both left and right. Led by the labour unions, critics insist that any enlargement be accompanied by tough environmental and labour rights rules. They also point to studies purporting to prove that Mexico's presence in Nafta has cost the US 600,000 jobs since 1994, the year Mr Clinton first invited Chile to join.
Most Republicans and American businessmen however argue precisely the opposite - that negotiation of environmental and labour safeguards will only slow up the process, allowing other countries to steal a march in one of the most attractive Latin American markets.
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