Capitol Alert

In Mexico, a ‘new Jerry Brown’ on free trade

MEXICO CITY – Gov. Jerry Brown, who once opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement and criticized the “insertion of Mexico into our economy,” pushed back his chair at a breakfast here Wednesday and looked on from the head table as Mexico’s secretary of economy heaped praise on the pact.

The number of California politicians who supported the measure two decades ago was “impressive,” said Mexico’s minister of economy, Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, and he called for his country and California to “push NAFTA to the next level.”

If Brown still harbors reservations about the impact of free trade agreements on labor and the environment, he did not voice them. In a non-binding, largely symbolic agreement signed Wednesday, the Brown administration and the Mexican government agreed to cooperate on economic, cultural and education programs, among other measures.

The agreement Brown signed called NAFTA the “principal foundation” for expanding California-Mexico trade.

In 1992, Brown, in his third, unsuccessful run for president, was among many Democrats who opposed NAFTA, fearful of the trade agreement’s impact on wages and the environment.

Brown said before traveling to Mexico that he “thought NAFTA had some real issues in terms of environmental impact, in terms of the displacement of jobs and labor protections.” He said the agreement has “evolved,” but he declined to give an updated assessment of it.

Now in his third term, Brown, who was scheduled to return to California later Wednesday after four days of trade, environment and immigration talks in Mexico, has become what the California Chamber of Commerce has called several times this week the state’s chief ambassador on trade.

In the hallway outside the breakfast, state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, said NAFTA was far from perfect but has created significant wealth. Tempest around the agreement has subsided, and Brown is a more moderate politician than he once was.

“This,” Correa said, “is the new Jerry Brown.”

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