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Remembering Bush 41: How Has NAFTA Shaped The Global Economy?


President Bush left behind an extensive political legacy, including trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, which created a free trade zone between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Now, more than 20 years later, President Donald Trump has just signed a deal meant to replace NAFTA.

Ambassador Carla Anderson Hills served as U.S. trade representative under President George H.W. Bush and was the primary negotiator for NAFTA, and she joins us this morning.

Thank you so much for being with us, ambassador.


MARTIN: What are your memories of President Bush on this morning as we reflect back on him and his legacy?

HILLS: My memories are that he was one of the most able, competent, experienced presidents that we've been blessed to have and a lovely man who was so modest. He never talked about himself. But his character really made a difference. You know, you look back at some of the things he had to deal with. He never was a man that would boast. He led us through the fall of the Berlin Wall. And he cautioned his team, don't boast so that we can maintain and build on the relationship. When we had the Tiananmen Square problem in China, he quietly sent Brent Scowcroft there to try to repair the damage and to keep things on an even keel. And so wherever you look, you find his experience. You recited at the beginning of this program his Congress, U.N., envoy to China, vice president, head of the CIA. He was really an experienced person...

MARTIN: Let me ask...

HILLS: ...Which we rarely see.

MARTIN: Yeah. Let me ask you. As someone who was the negotiator for NAFTA, something we're hearing a lot about these days, can you walk us back and just give us a broader sense of how that agreement ended up shaping the global economy?

HILLS: The agreement really made an enormous difference. Our trade with our two neighbors north and south has quadrupled. And all three nations have benefited. We have supply chains that are interlinked that make us the most competitive region in the world. North America is really unique, and we could build on that.

MARTIN: Let me ask you, though. There has been bipartisan criticism of the deal over the years. As jobs in manufacturing moved out of the United States, NAFTA is blamed for gutting the manufacturing economy in this country. It was a huge part of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, but there are Democrats who agree with at least part of that critique. Do you acknowledge NAFTA's shortcomings?

HILLS: I would say that when we blame NAFTA for the loss of manufacturing jobs, we don't look at the data. We are producing twice as much goods as we did before the NAFTA in the 1980s with half as many workers. That's not a - I mean, the productivity is up. What we have not taken account of is the tremendous advance of technology. You go on the floor of an auto company, and today there are about four workers in smocks that are putting things together. You - 20 years ago when you did that, it looked like New York at Fifth Avenue. So we have to deal with the 21st-century economy and not try to re-establish the 20th-century economy.

MARTIN: And President Trump just signed, as you know, the USMCA, United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, meant to replace NAFTA. But there are a lot of similarities with that deal. Do you think the changes are enough to merit pulling out altogether?

HILLS: Well, the NAFTA needed to be modernized because 25 years ago, we didn't have digital trade and all sorts of the technological changes. So we have modernized it. That's a plus. And hopefully, we can continue to work on it. I think that it would be a tragedy to cut off our economic relationships with our two neighbors. You know, we're blessed to have two neighbors that have worked with us on security, economic and humanitarian issues. We are really blessed.

MARTIN: Ambassador Carla Anderson Hills, she was U.S. trade representative and principal NAFTA negotiator under the late President George H.W. Bush.

Ambassador, thank you so much for your time this morning. We really appreciate it.

HILLS: A pleasure to join you.