US Farmers Wary of a Trade Pact with Mexicans FREE-TRADE ZONE

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IN Florida, citrus growers say their industry will be wiped out. In Washington state, apple growers see an opportunity both golden and delicious. California farmer Jim Roberts, boot-deep in baby carrots here, is both hopeful and anxious.

Down on the American farm, the proposed free trade agreement with Mexico is producing a salad of mixed feelings.

The possibility of closer integration of the US economy with Mexico's has stirred concern in the United States about everything from lost jobs in Detroit to trans-border pollution. But in few segments of American life are the emotions and questions running deeper than in agriculture.

"If Mexico is given duty-free entry into the US, Florida orange juice will be but a memory," says Dan Gunter, head of the Florida Department of Citrus.

"I think we can compete," says Mr. Roberts, vegetable grower and part owner of the Underwood Ranch here.

Last week, Congress gave the President the go-ahead to negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico. But the lobbying on the pact has just begun. Special interests of all kinds - including farmers - are now trying to shape the contours of any union between the US, Mexico, and Canada.

Farmers worry about everything from cheap imports, to patent rights on new hybrids, to trucking regulations - underscoring the complexity of linking disparate economies and the uneven consequences it could bring.

"We won't support the pact if our conditions aren't met," says Cher Watte, trade specialist at the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Many trade barriers between the US and Mexico have already been dropped over the past decade. Mexican farm exports to the US rose from $1 billion in 1980 to $2.3 billion in 1989. While the flow of US foodstuffs to Mexico grew more slowly, the US enjoyed a $3.3 billion net surplus in trade. Mexico is now the US's third largest farm export market.

The General Accounting Office, in a recent study, said the increased agricultural trade has "benefited both countries." The question now is whether removal of remaining barriers would be a help or hindrance.

Loosening of licensing and other restrictions, analysts say, are likely to benefit dairy, apple, small pear, and poultry producers. More soybeans and grains are also expected to flow south.

"Mexico has the potential to be our top foreign market," says Amy Hedeen of the Washington Apple Commission. …