Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Donald McConville
McCONVILLE: Well, not right at that moment. At the very tail-end of my tour as Director of the Office of International Trade, which would have been late 1989 and early '90, in late '89, the Mexicans had been making some noises about the possibility of a free trade agreement with the United States, and we'd had some bilateral trade meetings with them to just sort of talk about this topic. I had participated in some of those in late '89, and at that time our conclusion was that they simply weren't prepared, they didn't understand what this was really about, that the quality of people that they had involved in some of these economic and trade ministries that were talking with us was not very impressive, and that they weren't seriously talking about a real free trade agreement and this was not something that seemed its time had come. But then something happened during this period of time. Carlos Salinas was elected President in of Mexico. I think Mexican presidents are inaugurated in December, so he probably came in in December of '89. In Mexico, even though they were of the same party, when the new President comes in, he brings in new Cabinet members who bring in their people, and there was a wholesale turnover again in not just the top levels but reaching down quite a way into the ministry. Carlos Salinas himself, with a doctorate in economics, I think it was, from Harvard, had in his Cabinet with him a number of other people that had PhD's from Yale and Harvard and Chicago. Some of these people had been in the previous administration but not quite to this depth or breadth. With Salinas' ascension to the Presidency, this whole effort was greatly intensified in Mexico. So we again had another round of talks about the possibility of some kind of a new trade relationship with Mexico, and in these new talks it was like night and day. The people that were heading them on the Mexican side were extraordinarily impressive. They had PhD's from top U.S. universities, and they clearly had very strong backing from Salinas and from his top Cabinet ministers in the economic area, and they were very deeply and genuinely committed to serious talks about free trade. So that had a dramatic impact then on the U.S. side. Coming back from those talks, we were bringing the message that these people are very serious about it. Reagan in fact had mentioned the idea of some day having free trade from Alaska to the tip of South America. It had been thought of at the time as some kind of rhetorical flourish, nothing that was very realistic. Salinas then publicly stated that Mexico was interested in a free trade agreement with the United States, and when he went public with this, it suddenly woke up some people within the Bush Administration. Bush had responded to it in a fairly positive way, and over the course of that year this became a very serious matter. Both governments ultimately agreed, yes indeed, they would very, very seriously explore a free trade agreement between the two nations. This was such a dramatic advance in the whole area of relationship with Mexico, which had for so long looked on the U.S. as something to be feared.
Q: The menace to the north.