The approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement should open sizable middle-class markets in Mexico to American agriculture with limited Mexican products moving into the United States, predicts the president of the world's largest farm organization.

Dean Kleckner, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said Friday that the Mexican marketplace is hungry for American fruits, vegetables and processed food."The big flow of agriculture will be south, going into their country to help feed their growing population," Kleckner said. Kleckner was in Utah to address the 77th annual meeting of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation.

The Mexican population is burgeoning at 85 million people, the vast majority under 17. By 2000, the population is expected to top 100 million. By 2020, the Mexican population could be as high as 140 million.

"They can't feed themselves now. They have to import a lot," Kleckner said.

Without NAFTA, trade with Mexico would have withered, rather than increased slowly, Kleckner said. "If we had turned NAFTA down, we would have slapped Mexico in the face," he said.

Mexico needs corn, wheat, soybeans, pork, beef, dairy products, apples, peaches and blueberries, a market niche that should suit Utah producers, he said.

On Nov. 26, an inspector from the Mexican equivalent of the USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service will visit Utah to review the state's apple storage and orchards.

The review is part of a lengthy approval process that could enable Utah apple producers to sell 300,000 to 500,000 boxes of apples to Mexico annually. The exports represent from $7 million to $9 million in sales.

"We anticipate once this inspection is completed and based on a favorable rating from the University of Mexico and the Mexican government, we're hopeful Utah apples will be making their way into the Mexican market within 90 to 120 days," said Randy Parker, director of the Utah Department of Agriculture's Division of Marketing and Enhancement.

Only Washington, Idaho and Oregon are certified to sell apples in Mexico, Parker said.

The certification process started about nine months ago, but Parker said he believes NAFTA will help streamline the regulatory process.

Utah is presently certified to ship onions and potatoes to Mexico.

In December, a group of Mexican cattlemen is scheduled to visit Utah to discuss trade with Utah producers, Parker said.