President Bush said Tuesday the U.S. economic slowdown could make it harder to obtain a free trade pact with Mexico, but pledged to ``write a new page in North American history' with his veto pen if necessary to stop protectionist bills.

Bush wrapped up a two-day state visit and talks with President Carlos Salinas de Gortari with new agreements on oil investment, border crossings and on educational exchanges.In a joint statement issued shortly before the president headed home from this northern Mexico industrial city, Bush and Salinas proclaimed ``excellent cooperation' between their governments and reiterated a mutual call for a free-trade agreement.

In a key agreement, the pair resolved a U.S.-Mexican disagreement over the question of whether Mexico's vast oil industry should be open to U.S. or other foreign investment. Salinas has insisted the state-run and subsidized oil industry be exempt from the free-trade talks.

Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady told reporters here that the dispute has been eased by Mexico's agreement to allow an Export-Import Bank loan for drilling and supplying equipment in Mexican oil exploration.

Under such an arrangement, U.S. companies could provide Mexico with expertise in finding oil. The Export-Import Bank is an independent U.S. government agency.

Brady said that, ``for the first time, the services of American companies will be welcome and sought after with regard to drilling and other supplies in the Mexican oil fields.'

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