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Carla Hills signs NAFTA in December 1992 flanked by Mexican trade minister Jaime Serra Puche and Canadian trade minister Michael Wilson, while presidents Carlos Salinas and George Bush and Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney look on. (Photo: USTR)
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Special Reports

George H. W. Bush: “True Champion of Free Trade”

In Latin America, Bush is remembered for NAFTA, the Brady Plan and free trade.  


Latin America remembers President George H.W. Bush, who passed away November 30, for his negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Brady Plan debt relief and his Initiative of the Americas (a precursor for the Free Trade Area of the Americas).

“George H.W. Bush was a true champion and true believer of Free Trade,” says Luis Rubio, the executive partner in Mexico City office of US law firm Holland & Knight who was a member of the team that negotiated NAFTA on behalf of the Mexican government. “He had many accomplishments to be remembered for, including WTO and the liberalization of trade between US with Japan and China, but certainly one of his biggest accomplishments that he should be praised for was the negotiation of NAFTA, a trade agreement that would prove to be the template for modern trade agreements around the world.  Mr. Bush truly believed on the virtue of strengthening local economies by strengthening integrated trade blocs.  Those alliances and trade fundamentals that Mr. Bush help establish remain in place notwithstanding recent efforts to dismantle trade agreements.”


At the time Bush was president, Mexico was just starting to open up its economy after years of statist and protectionist policies.

Thanks to his relationship with Mexico’s president Carlos Salinas, Bush was able to secure a historic agreement that opened up nearly all sectors of the Mexican economy and produced one of the world’s largest economy-of-scale manufacturing successes ranging from cars to refrigerators. 


NAFTA, which became operative in 1994, created a regional market of over 400 million people erasing industrial tariffs, opening a broad range of services, providing protections for intellectual property, protecting investors against expropriation, and removing agricultural barriers between the United States and Mexico, a move that still stands as an example to the rest of the world, points out  Carla Hills, who served Bush's US Trade Representative from 1989 to 1993, during which time she led the US negotiations with Mexico and Canada for NAFTA.

"NAFTA has made both the U.S. and Mexico more competitive and more productive through the opening of our markets and the increase of our interdependence," Hills wrote in Latinvex in connection with the 20th anniversray of the signing of the treaty.


NAFTA led to a trade boom between the United States, Mexico and Canada.  Exports of U.S. goods and services to Mexico jumped from $51.9 billion in 1993 – the last year before NAFTA entered into force – to $243 billion last year, according to a Latinvex analysis of analysis of US Census Bureau data.


"We wouldn't have NAFTA if it hadn't been for President Bush," Richard Fisher, former Dallas Fed President and current advisor to Barclays, told CNBC today.

In a  statement, Salinas praised Bush as a leader that “fulfilled the presidency with dignity and a vision and did so respecting Mexico and Mexicans.”

In contrast, current US President Donald Trump has consistently insulted Mexico and Mexicans since he started his presidential campaign in 2015 and has announced plans to pull out of NAFTA while replacing it with his own US-Canada-Mexico Agreement (USMCA).

Meanwhile, Bush also helped provide badly-needed debt relief to Latin America, which was coming off a period of military dictatorships.

“Only a few months after President Bush’s inauguration, his administration announced the Brady Plan (named for the then new Treasury Secretary), which for the first time since the debt crisis exploded in the early 1980s, offered a measure debt relief to Latin America’s hard pressed and faltering economies,” points out Peter Hakim, president emeritus and a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue. (See George H.W. Bush: Ambitious Agenda for the Americas).

Beatrice Rangel, who served as chief of staff to Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, calls Bush “the best president Latin America ever had.”

“He dedicated a good part of his mandate to plant the pillars for future development in Latin America,” she writes in the Latin American Herald Tribune. “His Initiative for the Americas aimed at lifting the weight of debt from the Latin American economies through the Brady Plan with a view to liberate resources for development. He then designed what should have been the engines of growth: free trade and foreign direct investments.”


© Copyright Latinvex


George H.W. Bush: Ambitious Agenda for the Americas

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Robert McMillan served as Panama Canal Commission chairman in 1993 after being nominated as a board member by President George H.W. Bush in 1988. Here he remembers how he ended up at the PCC and how he met the future US President.


In 1988, as George H W Bush ran for President, I was asked by his brother, Jonathan, to run uphill against Pat Moynihan for the United States Senate.  Because Moynihan appeared to be unbeatable, no Republicans stepped forward to run against him.  Without an opponent the Democratic nominee for President, Dukakis, would never had to campaign in New York.

The strategy worked, because I traveled the state praising Bush more than me.  George H W Bush only lost New York by two percentage points.  There was one point in the race that I will never forget.  George H W Bush and I were in a Queens, New York rally where he was the speaker.  As he finished his remarks, he reached back to me, and said, "Come stand next to me.  We will both be on National TV this evening."  And we were!

Next I was asked what appointment worked for me in the Bush Administration?  Since I had used a lot of my money running uphill against Moynihan, only a part time position would work.  I then chose the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Commission.  I was confirmed by the US Senate with Moynihan as a "yes" vote.

I went on the Board in December of 1989 -- just before President Bush ousted Dictator Manuel Noriega in a well-planned invasion of Panama.

These moments with President George H W Bush will be with me the rest of my life!


© Copyright Latinvex




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