- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

SEATTLE (AP) — Mexican President Vicente Fox promised U.S. business executives yesterday that his country will be a valuable part of free trade advancements on the continent.

Speaking over breakfast to about 40 executives and government officials, Mr. Fox also tried to smooth worries about intellectual property rights and worker safety in his country. And he urged the giant Starbucks chain to work more closely with Mexican coffee growers.

Mexico wants to be competitive with the United States — not a competitor against it, he said. “That’s the heart of our conversations with President Bush’s administration,” Mr. Fox said.

Michael Casey, Starbucks’ chief financial officer, said the company hopes to add about 100 stores in Mexico in the next 18 months and up to 500 in the next five years.

“It’s our most aggressive growth track around the globe,” Mr. Casey said.

The meeting was part of Mr. Fox’s three-state swing through the West amid an extended debate across the United States over illegal aliens. He had visited Utah earlier and headed to California later yesterday to meet with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In a speech to dinner guests Wednesday night, Mr. Fox outlined a five-point position on immigration, saying Mexico does not support undocumented migration and must expand economic growth so that migration is “[no] longer a necessity, but a freewill decision.”

Mr. Fox also toured an orchard in the agriculture-rich Yakima Valley, telling hundreds of farmworkers that he thinks a solution on immigration is near.

“The people came to this land with sacrifice, many times risking their lives,” he said in Spanish. “It’s clear the purpose is to reach an agreement that can give security, that can give legality, that can give flow to the migrant people. I think we are closer to the end of this route.”

At Boeing Field in Seattle, Mr. Fox was greeted by about 30 well-wishers and grabbed a microphone from a mariachi band to thank the crowd. He ended the impromptu speech with “Gracias, felicidades, viva Mexico!” to cheers from the crowd.

Protesters ensured Mr. Fox had a less welcome arrival in downtown Seattle. About 50 demonstrators camped out on street corners, loudly denouncing Mr. Fox’s ties with Mr. Bush and liberalized trade policies while offering support to leftist Zapatista rebels in Mexico.

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