January 23, 1999
Central America seeks free trade nod from Clinton

                  TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) -- Central American leaders will ask U.S.
                  President Bill Clinton to back a free trade deal when he visits next month to
                  review reconstruction efforts after the deadly passage of Hurricane Mitch, an
                  official said on Saturday.

                  Honduran Industry and Trade Minister Reginaldo Panting said Honduras,
                  Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala would hand Clinton a petition to
                  establish a trade accord that could help Central America pull itself out of the

                  Clinton is due to visit the four countries as well as Mexico between Feb.

                  "We will jointly ask Bill Clinton to give us a free trade agreement or to allow
                  us the same privileges that Mexico gets under the North American Free
                  Trade Agreement (NAFTA)," Panting said. Mexico, the United States and
                  Canada are the members of NAFTA.

                  Some 9,000 people died and roads, bridges and farmland were severely
                  damaged or wiped out at the end of October by Mitch, one of the strongest
                  Atlantic hurricanes on record.

                   Copyright 1999 Reuters.