There is a tradition that when it snows in the mountains near Mexico City - and it rarely does - people race to the mountains to gather up the snow before it melts and then race back to the city with their prize. Snow, it seems, is a symbol of good fortune.

So you can imagine the surprise of Mexican government officials and journalists when Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and a Utah trade delegation of business leaders presented them with snowballs from the Wasatch Mountains.But whose good fortune? Lea-vitt, who returned last week from three days of trade talks in Mexico City, believes the benefits of free trade go both ways, but he admits with unbridled enthusiasm that Utah is perfectly situated to see a boom in trade with its Latin American neighbors to the south.

"There are 80 million potential new customers for Utah goods in Mexico, which is a gateway to another 700 million customers in Central and South America," Leavitt said. "Those are all emerging economies. They all have expanding middle classes with increasing spending power."

And, Leavitt adds, every time a Utah business sells to a new customer, it creates a new job or an enhanced job for a Utahn. "We need to create a quarter million new jobs in the next eight to 10 years if we are going to ensure employment for our children and grandchildren. Many of those children will be employed in businesses drawing revenues from Mexican consumers."

Utah is a relatively small state, Leavitt said, so Utah must expand its ability to sell goods and services.

And he was impressed by what he saw in Mexico. Many of the government leaders were educated in the United States, and those directing major departments have doctorate degrees in economics and finance.

"They are very well-educated and highly focused on creating jobs. They see that as a major lever to solve a lot of social and economic problems," Leavitt said. And trade is seen as a key to those kind of problems.

Mexico is very interested in Utah, which is located in a major I-15 corridor between Canada and Mexico. Officials there are also interested in the computer software developed by Utah companies that could facilitate Mexico's plunge into a world economy.

In most respects, the trade mission surpassed Leavitt's expectations. He went to Mexico hoping to meet key officials and establish relationships that could be built upon over time.

"In several areas, we were able to move the discussion beyond the relationship phase," Leavitt said. "They were prepared to initiate return trade delegations, to enter into substantive discussions. My expectation was to establish a point of contact, and we exceeded that."

Leavitt met with high-ranking Mexican officials, including the foreign secretary, the commerce secretary (who negotiated the North American Free Trade Agree-ment), the secretary of education and the undersecretary of transportation. He also met with business leaders and the governors of two of the most progressive Mexican states.

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Leavitt took advantage of the budding relationships to extend invitations to three different groups to lead trade missions to Utah, which would "move the economic relationship forward in a significant way," he said.

Most impressive, Leavitt said, is the feeling of economic vibrance and professionalism that contradicts many of the preconceived notions about Mexican businesses and government. Leavitt said many aspects of business there are sophisticated and well-financed.

"They are not without their challenges and they readily admit that," Leavitt said. "They have some dramatic challenges, but they are very clearly focused on them, and I was impressed by capability of their leadership.

And he was particularly impressed at the strides Mexico has made to become a major economic force. That, Leavitt said, "represents a very good economic opportunity for our state."

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