Clinton Stumps for Mexico

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MERIDA, Mexico: It may have a patchy record on fighting drugs, but punishing Mexico would be a very bad idea. That's the message President Clinton wants Washington to take from his Monday visit to Mexico. "The purpose of this trip is to get Congress to recertify Mexico as ally in the war on drugs," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan, traveling with the President. "One of the most persuasive arguments is economic: NAFTA has played a major role in cushioning the U.S. from the effects of the Asian economic meltdown." While global financial contagion sent total U.S. exports into decline last year, exports to NAFTA countries actually grew. Says Branegan, "Decertifying Mexico would force us to impose sanctions, and that could hurt the U.S. economy."

President Clinton will do his best to showcase improvements in Mexico's record on drugs -- "even though," as Branegan notes, "some of the statistics suggest the opposite" -- and press President Zedillo to take further anti-drug measures. But between the lines, he'll be telling legislators that this is no time for America, Inc., to close the doors on a good customer.