By John Enders
SAN JOSE, Calif. _ The North American Free Trade Agreement may be having a rough time in Congress but U.S. high-tech companies already are voting with their pocketbooks, opening new operations or expanding existing ones in Mexico.
High-technology companies broadly support the treaty's goals of lowering trade barriers, but industry executives say their interest in doing business inside Mexico preceded it.
"We are a global industry in a borderless world," said Dave Barram of Apple Computer Inc., which last month announced it was opening a sales operation in Mexico to capitalize on its fast-growing Pacific market.
NAFTA _ a pact to phase out tariffs on trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico _ was signed by President Bush before he left office.
It requires approval in Congress, where it has been criticized by environmental and labor groups. Mexican and U.S. officials are negotiating add-on agreements urged by President Clinton to address environmental and labor concerns.
But high-tech companies already have benefited from stiffer competition among Mexican businesses and an increasingly open market.
Personal computer sales in Mexico are projected to reach nearly $1 billion in 1993, a 29 percent jump from last year, according to International Data Corp., a market research firm.
"They want the technology. They want the equipment," said Rachel Mullins, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Pacific chapter of the United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce.
Allen White, director of Apple Latin America, said the free trade treaty would boost investment in Mexico, especially in the first few years. But he said expansion south of the border would continue with or without it. …