Following diplomatic negotiations dating back to 1991 between the three nations, the leaders met in San Antonio, Texas, on December 17, 1992, to sign NAFTA. U.S. President George H.W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Mexican President Carlos Salinas, each responsible for spearheading and promoting the agreement, ceremonially signed it. The agreement then needed to be ratified by each nation's legislative or parliamentary branch.
Before the negotiations were finalized, Bill Clinton came into office in the U.S. and Kim Campbell in Canada, and before the agreement became law, Jean Chrétien had taken office in Canada.
The proposed Canada-U.S.trade agreement had been extremely controversial and divisive in Canada, and the 1988 Canadian election was fought almost exclusively on that issue. In that election more Canadians voted for anti-free trade parties (the Liberals and the New Democrats) but more seats in parliament were won by the pro-free trade Progressive Conservatives (PCs). Mulroney and the PCs had a parliamentary majority and were able to easily pass the Canada-U.S. FTA and NAFTA bills. However Mulroney himself had become deeply unpopular and resigned on June 25, 1993. He was replaced as Conservative leader and prime minister by Kim Campbell, who then led the PC party into the 1993 election where they were decimated by the Liberals under Jean Chrétien. Chrétien had campaigned on a promise to renegotiate or abrogate NAFTA, but instead negotiated the two supplemental agreements with the new U.S. Democratic president, and ideological ally, Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton had become president of the U.S. before the agreement came into force, and is seen here signing the U.S. implementation legislation.
In the U.S., Bush, who had worked to "fast track" the signing prior to the end of his term, ran out of time and had to pass the required ratification and signing into law to incoming president Bill Clinton. Prior to sending it to the House of Representatives, Clinton introduced clauses intended to protect American workers and allay the concerns of many House members. It also required U.S. partners to adhere to environmental practices and regulations similar to its own. The ability to enforce these clauses, especially with Mexico, was considered questionable, and with much consternation and emotional discussion the House of Representatives approved NAFTA on November 17, 1993, by a vote of 234 to 200. Remarkably, the agreement's supporters included 132 Republicans and only 102 Democrats. NAFTA did not get the votes needed to pass as a Treaty in the U.S. Senate. That unusual combination reflected the challenges President Clinton faced in convincing Congress that the controversial piece of legislation would truly benefit all Americans. The agreement was signed into law in the U.S. on December 8, 1993, by President Bill Clinton and went into effect on January 1, 1995.
It's an honor for me today to be joined by my
predecessor, President Bush, who took the major steps in negotiating
this North American Free Trade Agreement; President Jimmy Carter,
whose vision of hemispherical development gives great energy to our
efforts and has been a consistent theme of his for many, many years
now; and President Ford who has argued as fiercely for expanded trade
and for this agreement as any American citizen and whose counsel I
continue to value.
These men, differing in party and outlook, join us today
because we all recognize the important stakes for our nation in this
issue. Yesterday we saw the sight of an old world dying, a new one
being born in hope and a spirit of peace. Peoples who for a decade
were caught in the cycle of war and frustration chose hope over fear
and took a great risk to make the future better.
Implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) began on January 1, 1994. This agreement will remove most barriers to trade and investment among the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Under the NAFTA, all non-tariff barriers to agricultural trade between the United States and Mexico were eliminated. In addition, many tariffs were eliminated immediately, with others being phased out over periods of 5 to 15 years. This allowed for an orderly adjustment to free trade with Mexico, with full implementation beginning January 1, 2008.
The agricultural provisions of the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement, in effect since 1989, were incorporated into the NAFTA. Under these provisions, all tariffs affecting agricultural trade between the United States and Canada, with a few exceptions for items covered by tariff-rate quotas, were removed by January 1, 1998.