President Reagan Wednesday signed legislation implementing the U.S.-Canadian free trade agreement, saying it will mean lower prices for consumers and many new jobs for workers.
The Senate approved the bill on Sept. 19 by a vote of 83-0. With the president's signature, it clears the way for U.S. action in phasing out tariffs on $131 billion in merchandise that crosses the U.S.-Canada border each year.The agreement was approved this year by the Canadian House of Commons, but leaders of the the Canadian Senate have said they will delay action until Prime Minister Brian Mulroney holds an election. There is speculation in Canada that Mulroney will call an election shortly for late November. He is four years into his term.
Mulroney, a Progressive Conservative, is a strong supporter of the agreement, but both opposition parties, the Liberals and the New Democrats, oppose it. Public opinion polls show that opinion in Canada is about evenly divided on the issue.
Reagan signed the bill in a Rose Garden ceremony, saying, "This is a moment future historians will cite as a landmark, a turning point in the forward march of trade, commerce and even civilization itself.
"That's a dramatic statement I know," he said, but the agreement "creates the world's largest free trade area" and "will mean lower prices for consumers, jobs galore for workers and new markets for producers."
The bill calls for a 10-year phase-out of tariffs.
The free-trade zone would remove barriers between the North American neighbors, but the two countries would continue to have separate sets of tariffs and quotas on imports from third countries.