WASHINGTON -- Penning into law the North American Free Trade Agreement, President Clinton looked toward another battle Wednesday, urging that the 116 nations negotiating a world trade agreement 'close the deal on a strong GATT agreement.'
With the signing of NAFTA, Clinton closed the book on his most hotly contested and successful fight in Congress since he took office in January. In the end, NAFTA earned bipartisan support in Congress, despite a tough fight by its opponents -- organized labor and Texas billionaire Ross Perot.
The trilateral trade agreement among Canada, Mexico and the United States will create the largest free trade zone in the world when it formally goes into effect on Jan. 1.
While NAFTA has cleared all of its hurdles in Mexico and the United States, it must be 'officially proclaimed' in Canada, a formality that is the final step before it actually goes into effect. Canada's ruling Liberal party last week said it would proclaim NAFTA, after negotiations had resulted in clarifications on certain aspects of the pact.
Clinton welcomed representatives from Canada and Mexico at the signing ceremonies.
'They are our partners in the future that we are trying to make together,' Clinton said.
Speaking at the Mellon Auditorium at the Commerce Department, where President Harry Truman in 1949 signed the North Atlantic Treaty that created NATO, Clinton echoed a rallying cry he used during the NAFTA campaign, saying the trade pact will create 200,000 new U.S. jobs by 1995.
Before signing the accord, Clinton said NAFTA and free trade will lead to worldwide growth, equality, preservation of the environment and peace.
'Now we must recognize that the only way for a wealthy nation to grow richer is to export, to simply find new customers for the products and services it makes,' Clinton said. 'That, my fellow Americans, is the decision the Congress made when they voted to ratify NAFTA.'
Now, facing a GATT deadline just a week away, Clinton also said the United States was prepared to 'make our contribution to the success of these negotiations but we insist that other nations do their part as well.'
'We must not squander this opportunity,' Clinton said. 'A historic worldwide trade pact, one that will start a global economic boom, is now within our grasp.'
Clinton's words were aimed at European nations, France in particular, which have thrown up new barriers in the final days of near round-the- clock negotiations in the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade by the Dec. 15 deadline.
U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, the chief U.S. negotiator, sat in the audience. He flew back from Europe after halting the marathon talks because of two lingering disputes.
If the agreement is not signed by Dec. 15, Clinton loses the fast- track legislative route that permits the agreement to come before both chambers without being bottled up in committee or subject to a Senate filibuster.