If I hadn’t signed NAFTA it would have been worse. First of all, I made it better. We got more environmental protections, and we developed something called the North American Development Bank to promote more investment, particularly near the border where jobs were lost.
Secondly, if I hadn’t signed it — after the Mexicans and the Canadians thought, under President Bush before me, it would be the law and they had reached agreement — we would have had more undocumented people pouring in from Mexico. We would have had more drugs coming in from Mexico, and everybody in Latin America would have hated our guts for walking away from our future.
Now, what did I learn from it? I learned that there were people, mostly in the other party, who believe in free trade but didn’t really believe in doing anything for people who lost jobs. That is, every trade deal produces winners and losers, so this was going to work for us in a lot of ways because the Mexicans had much higher tariffs than we did. And because, if you’re a wealthy country, the jobs trade creates pay above the average wage, and often the jobs that are lost pay below.
But it’s always assumed that all those people will be retrained and that there will be incentives to invest within driving distance of where they live to create new jobs. And we lost the Congress in ‘94, and I couldn’t get the money, and there was no interest in it until my last year as president when we passed something called the New Markets Initiative. So if I had it to do again, I’d get the money on the front end, and I’d say, “No, no, no, no. I need more money to help the people who will lose the jobs.”
I just assumed, I think probably because I had — the Congress was the majority of our party, and also because the people that were for NAFTA, I couldn’t imagine that they wouldn’t want to help the people that wouldn’t be winners.