Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON — The retail industry is not listening to entreaties from the Clinton administration and Congressional trade leaders to abstain from seeking special favors on a $40 billion loan guarantee to help Mexico out of its currency crisis.
“We’re maintaining we’re having problems with the North American Free Trade Agreement that we need help with,” said Rob Hall, vice president, government affairs counsel with the National Retail Federation.
Yet, as the Congressional debate over the package grows more contentious, the odds of attaching a change to Mexico’s troublesome certificate-of-origin rule appear to be declining.
“The chances of conditions on the bill are not as good as they were a week ago,” Hall said. “People are making a real push to keep the bill clean of amendments.”
So, in addition to trying to include their amendment in the legislative language being drafted, retailers are pursuing promises by members of Congress to send letters and make telephone calls to Mexican officials urging them to relent on the rule. Retailers have charged the rule amounts to an embargo on Far Eastern exports between U.S. retailers and their Mexican outlets.
The rule requires that original country-of-origin documentation accompany imports into Mexico. However, these documents are routinely taken by U.S. Customs when imported goods enter the U.S. to go to central warehouses for redistribution later.
Meanwhile, the loan guarantee package has become as contentious and as threatened as NAFTA was in 1993 and GATT was in 1994. House Democrats have added a package of conditions that would raise wages in Mexico and institute labor reforms, while House Republicans are seeking better guarantees from the Clinton White House that Mexico will be made to pay back any money it borrows.
Rep. Jim Leach (R., Iowa), chairman of the House Banking Committee, plans a hearing today. Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.), negotiating the package for liberal Democrats, said that without conditions on labor rights, the majority of House Democrats won’t vote for it.
In the Senate, Republicans are complaining that President Clinton has not answered all of their concerns about the collateral offered by Mexico as well as economic reform there to prevent future crises.
Sen. Jesse Helms (R., N.C.) has sent the White House a list of 35 questions he wants answered about the loan guarantee and plans hearings before the Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs, on Thursday.