President Clinton urged Latin Americans Friday not to be discouraged because legislation giving him broader power to negotiate international trade agreements failed to get congressional approval.
"This is not the last chapter of the story," he said as he welcomed Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo to the White House. "I think we'll see some movement early next year. We'll work hard on this over the holidays."The Clinton administration has to come up with a bill they hope will get the same support from House Democrats that fast-track legislation received from a majority of both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.
Clinton also said drugs presented a threat to both countries.
"The problem is not the transit of drugs but the production of drugs," he said. "We have to work together to reduce demand."
Clinton praised the stability of Mexico's economy in the past few weeks in the face of international financial market turmoil that began in Southeast Asia.
He said Zedillo was following the right course and said the focus should not be on markets, but on economic fundamentals, "because if the fundamentals were correct the markets would come along."
Clinton also said Mexico's transition to multiparty democracy - the opposition controls the country's lower house - was "amazing because it happened so quickly and so well."
Both Zedillo and the Clinton administration seem eager to highlight a newly negotiated multinational convention to curb cross-border gun smuggling throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Clinton and Zedillo were to sign the measure later at the headquarters of Organization of American States following the White House talks.
Zedillo arrived Thursday and had a private dinner with Clinton at the White House. The two leaders - who have graduate studies at Yale University in common, Clinton in law and Zedillo in economics - have a close personal and professional relationship, said Mack McLarty, Clinton's special envoy for the Americas.
At a briefing on the visit, McLarty said Mexico had overtaken Japan to become the United States' second largest trading partner after Canada. The three nations are linked in the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA.