President George Bush (R) gestures to the press in the Rose Garden of the White House on August 6,1990. File photo by Martin Jeong/UPI | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 1992 (UPI) -- President Bush, stressing its potential for creating American jobs, Wednesday announced completion of a historic and politically sensitive North American Free Trade Agreement, which will wipe out customs barriers and open markets among the United States, Mexico and Canada.
''It's a good day for America and a good day for North America,'' Bush said in a statement in the Rose Garden with U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills, who negotiated the agreement, by his side.
The pact was hammered out after 14 months of negotiations but details still must be worked out by lawyers over the coming weeks.
''Today marks the beginning of a new era on the North American continent with the completion of negotiations'' for the treaty, Bush told the White House gathering.
The president said the pact will further open markets, create jobs and increase economic growth.
''This agreement will level the North American playing field, allowing American companies to increase sales from Alaska to the Yucatan,'' he added.
''I have said many times: Level the playing field and the American worker can out-think, out-produce, and out-work anyone, anytime,'' he said.
''Open markets in Mexico and Canada mean more American jobs,'' he said.
Hills said the agreement ''brightens America's future and makes it more competitive.'' She said it will ''generate high-paying jobs.''
However, the AFL-CIO said in a statement that the trade agreement is ''a bad deal for American workers and consumers and for the long-term health of the U.S. economy.''
The labor organization added, ''The notion that President Bush's version of 'free trade' will create more and better jobs in the United States is simply wrong.''
The treaty must be ratified by Congress, as well as the Mexican and Canadian legislatures and Bush said he would seek fast approval from Congress to implement the treat.
Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a member of its International Trade Subcommittee, said that although he has not read ''the fine print'' of the agreement, ''I will now move quickly to give it serious review and careful consideration.''
But Bentsen added that Congress ''would be unlikely to approve any NAFTA package that fails to adequately address'' such issues as an effective adjustment program for dislocated workers and a means for combating pollution along the U.S.-Mexico border.''
Bush's Democratic opponent, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, supported the opening of negotiations with Mexico last year, but more recently applauded House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt's criticism that the administration had not been tough enough in protecting American jobs.
The agreement, which will create a free-trade area with 360 million people and a gross domestic product of $6 trillion, is designed to bring about a free flow of labor and capital among the three nations.
Under the agreement, the three countries are bound by the same set of strict labor and environmental laws.
Bush said that this is the first time ''a trade agreement has included stringent provisions to benefit the environment'' and maintains high health and safety standards.
Organized labor and several key congressmen have opposed the treaty on grounds it would lead to job flight from the United States and reduce the demand for U.S. goods. But supporters say it would increase U.S. exports, a strong part of the American economy.
The negotiators were scheduled to fly to Mexico after the White House ceremony to present the treaty to Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
The opposition Revolutionary Democratic Party in Mexico has opposed the treaty and PRD Deputy Ricardo Valero said, the agreement ''is simply a source of cheap labor.''
Bush said that in the last five years since Salinas dismantled many long standing trade restrictions, U.S. exports to Mexico have nearly tripled.
He said the pact ''will make our companies more competitive everywhere in the world'' by sweeping aside barriers in agricultural, manufacturing and service trades. ''The Cold War is over,'' he said. ''The principal challenge now facing the United States is to compete in a rapidly changing and expanding global marketplace.
Under the agreement, approximately 65 percent of U.S. industrial and agricultural exports to Mexico will be eligible for duty-free treatment either immediately or within five years.
Mexican tariffs on vehicles and trucks will be immediately cut in half. Within 5 years, duties on three-quarters of U.S. parts exports to Mexico will be eliminated, and local content requirements will be phased out over 10 years.
The agreement will require that autos contain 62.5 percent North American content, considerably more than the 50 percent required by the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement.
It immediately eliminates Mexico import licenses, which covered 25 percent of U.S. agricultural exports last year, and will phase out the remaining Mexican tariffs within 10 to 15 years.