Negotiation, signing, ratification, and revision (1988–94)
The impetus for a North American free trade zone began with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who made the idea part of his campaign when he announced his candidacy for the presidency in November 1979. Canada and the United States signed the Canada–United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 1988, and shortly afterward Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari decided to approach US president George H. W. Bush to propose a similar agreement in an effort to bring in foreign investment following the Latin American debt crisis. As the two leaders began negotiating, the Canadian government under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney feared that the advantages Canada had gained through the Canada–US FTA would be undermined by a US–Mexican bilateral agreement, and asked to become a party to the US–Mexican talks.
Following diplomatic negotiations dating back to 1990, the leaders of the three nations signed the agreement in their respective capitals on December 17, 1992. The signed agreement then needed to be ratified by each nation's legislative or parliamentary branch.
The earlier Canada–United States Free Trade Agreement had been controversial and divisive in Canada, and featured as an issue in the 1988 Canadian election. In that election, more Canadians voted for anti-free trade parties (the Liberals and the New Democrats), but the split of the votes between the two parties meant that the pro-free trade Progressive Conservatives (PCs) came out of the election with the most seats and so took power. Mulroney and the PCs had a parliamentary majority and easily passed the 1987 Canada–US FTA and NAFTA bills. However, Mulroney was replaced as Conservative leader and prime minister by Kim Campbell. Campbell led the PC party into the 1993 election where they were decimated by the Liberal Party under Jean Chrétien, who campaigned on a promise to renegotiate or abrogate NAFTA. Chrétien subsequently negotiated two supplemental agreements with Bush, who had subverted the LAC advisory process and 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 of the implementation law to incoming president Bill Clinton.
Before sending it to the United States Senate Clinton added two side agreements, the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), to protect workers and the environment, and to also allay the concerns of many House members. The U.S. required its partners to adhere to environmental practices and regulations similar to its own. After much consideration and emotional discussion, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act on November 17, 1993, 234–200. The agreement's supporters included 132 Republicans and 102 Democrats. The bill passed the Senate on November 20, 1993, 61–38. Senate supporters were 34 Republicans and 27 Democrats. Clinton signed it into law on December 8, 1993; the agreement went into effect on January 1, 1994. Clinton, while signing the NAFTA bill, stated that "NAFTA means jobs. American jobs, and good-paying American jobs. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't support this agreement." NAFTA then replaced the previous Canada-US FTA.
NAFTA (TLCAN in Spanish) was approved by the Mexican Senate on November 22, 1993, and was published in the Official Gazette of the Federation on December 8, 1993.
The decree implementing NAFTA and the various changes to accommodate NAFTA in Mexican law was promulgated on December 14, 1993, with entry into force on January 1, 1994.