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WE'RE ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY, MEXICAN CHIEF TELLS U.S. EDITORS

President Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, in a speech to American newspaper editors here Wednesday, painted a portrait of a nation beginning to recover from last December's "financial storm."

"It is not over," he told the annual convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, "but conditions are calmer, and the path ahead becomes clearer each day."The storm he spoke of was the Dec. 20 move by his government to devalue the peso and allow it to float. The peso immediately plummeted against the dollar, triggering a financial crisis in which inflation soared, businesses shut down and workers lost jobs.

Zedillo, who came into office the first day of December, instituted an austerity program that has had its own costs: a higher sales tax, higher prices for gasoline and electricity, continued high interest rates and a tightened money supply.

On Wednesday, Zedillo declared his program is working.

The Mexican economy is adjusting, he said. "The economy will recover faster than expected."

"Mexico," he added, "will become what it must be, a high-growth economy."

Zedillo pointed to the Mexican balance of trade as one of the positive signals. "In February, for the first time in many years, the trade balance showed a surplus that reached more than $450 million, a sharp contrast with the $1.5 billion deficit of February of 1994."

The speech was the second in as many days in which Zedillo cited the figures in an attempt to put a happier face on the Mexican situation. On Tuesday, he spoke to the Bolsa de Valores, or Mexican stock exchange. At the end of trading Tuesday, the peso had climbed a bit.

On Wednesday, the peso closed a bit higher again, at 6.45 to the dollar.

Zedillo blamed the financial crisis on several factors, including a lack of foresight on the part of the Mexican government.

"Let me be clear about this: We should have recognized that the deficit in our current account was excessive and the government should have acted sooner."