- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2005

From combined dispatches

VANCOUVER, Canada - Mexican President Vicente Fox lent support last week to Canada’s long, bitter construction-lumber trade dispute with the United States, addressing business leaders at a luncheon Friday hosted by Prime Minister Paul Martin.

“Mexico fully supports Canada’s position to make sure the decisions of NAFTA panels in the settlement of disputes are upheld,” Mr. Fox said here, alluding to the softwood tiff.

“We must strengthen NAFTA,” as the North American Free Trade Agreement is known, Mr. Fox told about 80 businessmen in Vancouver, headquarters of most Canadian forestry firms.

Canada walked away from talks with the United States in mid-August to protest its biggest trading partner’s handling of the trade dispute, saying actions by the Bush administration threaten to unravel NAFTA.

The United States has collected about $4 billion in duties on Canadian softwood imports since May 2002, claiming its northern neighbor unfairly subsidized its industry and dumped cheap wood in the U.S. market.

Canada wants the money refunded and open access to the U.S. market restored.

The United States said it will continue to collect duties on Canadian softwood imports, despite a unanimous decision by a NAFTA panel reaffirming a prior Canadian victory.

The panel, established under the three-nation free-trade area treaty, previously ruled that Canadian softwood lumber had not harmed the U.S. lumber industry.

A NAFTA panel on Aug. 10 dismissed Washington’s claims that Canadian softwood exports are subsidized by Ottawa and therefore harm the U.S. lumber industry.

Washington ignored the ruling, claiming it did not address a 2004 decision by the U.S. International Trade Commission that found in favor of the United States, and pledged to keep imposing punitive tariffs on Canadian lumber imports.

“Mexico regrets any unilateral decision that fails to abide by the decisions of the arbitration panel, where trade differences are discussed and aired,” Mr. Fox told the Vancouver Board of Trade.

Though not mentioning President Bush by name, Mr. Fox said that when he was last in Texas — where the two leaders met twice this year at Mr. Bush’s Crawford ranch — he made it clear to the U.S. president that trade disputes must be settled according to regulations.

“Fair trade governed by rules is the basis for the growth of our economy. Institutions and procedures must be strengthened, not weakened,” Mr. Fox said.

He made his first visit to the oil-rich province of Alberta Thursday. He stressed the importance of expanding energy ties, and he pledged to stand by the democratic reforms made under his leadership.

In a luncheon speech with business and energy executives, Mr. Fox said Mexico is working to make itself more attractive to foreign investors.

He has said he would propose changes in Mexico’s energy laws to allow for private investment in the pipeline network for Pemex, the country’s state oil company. The aging pipeline has suffered a series of leaks and deadly explosions.

With a win at the polls in 2000, Mr. Fox ended 71 straight years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which had controlled the presidency since its founding in 1929.

In a speech at the University of Calgary, Mr. Fox said Mexico would continue to fight for democratic reforms.

“The era of an exacerbated presidential authoritarian regime has been overcome,” he said. “Mexico is no longer and will never again be a country ruled by one man, but today ruled by institutions according to the will of citizens.”

Hours before his arrival at the university, police and fire officials cordoned off the biosciences center on campus after a suspicious envelope was found and opened.

Two persons were taken to the hospital and 11 persons were treated on the scene with throat irritations after the envelope was found, Calgary police said.

University officials said Mr. Fox was not on campus during the incident, and police would not speculate on whether the package had anything to do with his visit.

Mr. Fox said Mexico is working to make itself more attractive to foreign investors, including further democratic reforms.

He often calls his electoral victory the beginning of true Mexican democracy, and many academics at home and overseas generally agree.

“Today, we have genuine competition among the various political parties, which strengthens transparency and reduces corruption,” he said of Mexico, the world’s sixth-largest oil producer and a top supplier of crude oil to the United States.

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