May 11, 2000

Mexico, Central America agree on free trade

                  MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Mexico reached a free-trade agreement with Guatemala,
                  El Salvador and Honduras Thursday, after eight years of negotiations.

                  The agreement calls for trade barriers to be dismantled over 11 years for
                  industrial products and 12 years for agricultural products.

                  Mexican Commerce Secretary Herminio Blanco said the agreement covers
                  industrial goods, services, investment protection, intellectual property and
                  conflict resolution.

                  Officials from the four countries reached the agreement after settling differences
                  over Mexican exports of beer and steel. If ratified by the Mexican Senate and the
                  legislatures of the three Central American countries, the accord will take effect
                  on January 1.

                  In an effort to wean itself from dependence on the United States, Mexico
                  recently reached free trade agreements with the European Union and Israel. It
                  already has free trade pacts with the United States, Canada, Chile, Colombia,
                  Venezuela, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

                  Mexico does most of its trading with the United States, the focus of 83 percent
                  of Mexican trade last year.