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Bush, Fox to talk immigration, trade

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Mexican President Vicente Fox arrived in Washington late Tuesday with the status of the more than 3 million Mexicans living illegally in the United States at the top of his agenda.

But President Bush said Tuesday a major new immigration agreement was unlikely.

"This is a complex issue," he said. "It's going to take a while to bring all the different interests to the table. But we've made good progress so far."

Fox will start his official visit with a welcoming ceremony Wednesday morning on the White House South Lawn, followed by a closed-door meeting with Bush. Cabinet members of both countries will meet afterward.

Fox will be the guest of honor at Bush's first state dinner and will address a joint session of Congress on Thursday.

Mexico's Vicente Fox will meet with U.S. President George W. Bush to work out cross-border trade agreements. CNN's John King reports (September 4)

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Fox wants a blanket amnesty for Mexican immigrants who entered the United States illegally.

Bush opposes that idea, but he is considering the expansion of a temporary worker program, which would allow Mexicans living illegally in the United States to gain permanent legal residency.

Those efforts face resistance from members of Congress.

"A guest worker program we can develop -- one that will work, I hope we can develop," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colorado. "But it should not be, and will not be, attached to any sort of amnesty."

Although a full agreement on immigration is not expected, the two leaders are expected to carve out a framework of principles that would set the stage for further talks.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and Mexico's Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda forged agreements Tuesday on a variety of issues, including food safety, the sharing of assets confiscated from criminal activity, and education.

Powell said the agreements "testify to the new dynamic" of the relationship between the two countries.

Bush has cultivated his relationship with Fox and has made new ties with Mexico a key point of his administration's international policy.

Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, won Mexico's presidency last year as the candidate of the conservative National Action Party. It was the first win by the opposition to Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party in 71 years.

He and Bush also are expected to discuss anti-drug efforts and a shared border-control program. Fox already has Bush's support for a proposal to allow Mexican long-haul trucks unlimited access to U.S. roads despite opposition from the Teamsters Union, which supported Bush's energy proposals.

"The best way to take pressure off our borders is for Mexico to grow a middle class, and the avenue for Mexico to grow a middle class is trade," Bush said.

Both leaders face economic woes at home. Fox has so far been unable to deliver on a promise of spurring 1.5 million new jobs. Bush is trying to persuade Congress to grant him broad power to negotiate trade agreements, using the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico as a model.

Analysts credit NAFTA with spurring a 7 percent increase in Mexico's gross domestic product in 2000, but the U.S. economic slowdown has also ground Mexico's economy to a halt and prompted layoffs.

U.S. exports to Mexico are up by nearly 170 percent since NAFTA took effect in 1994. Mexican exports to the United States grew 240 percent during the same period and now account for 25 percent of Mexico's economy.

Organized labor blames NAFTA for lost U.S. manufacturing jobs, however, and other critics note that 1993's $1.7 billion U.S. trade surplus with Mexico is now a $23 billion trade deficit.

Fox will join Bush on a visit to Toledo, Ohio, late Thursday, and plans to meet with the president's brother -- Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- on Friday.

• The White House
• Presidency of the Republic of Mexico

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