BOSTON--Former President George Bush called on mass retail executives to support international trade agreements to stimulate job creation and a healthier economy. Speaking at the closing session of the International Mass Retail Association annual convention last week, Bush said, "If we want more jobs in this country and we want the consumer to benefit from lower prices, we must support international trade relationships." Referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement, Bush said, "More American jobs were created by NAFTA. There was no sucking sound in American jobs lost. "Mexico is going to recover. NAFTA was worth it, and I want to see the trade agreement expanded into Chile. I want this hemisphere to be the first free-trade hemisphere in the entire world," he said. Bush called upon the retailers, who form a powerful lobbying group in Washington, to press for more open trade with Latin America. About 2,000 retailers and suppliers attended the four-day IMRA show, which ended here last week. In his address to the leading executives in the mass retail sector, Bush also criticized the Clinton Administration's move to impose trade sanctions through tariffs on Japanese luxury cars. He said quiet negotiations are far more effective than strong-arm tactics. Bush emphasized that he was talking as a private citizen with lengthy political and diplomatic experience. The tariff on 13 Japanese luxury car models, scheduled to take effect June 28 unless a trade accord is reached, is the largest ever imposed by the U.S. against any trading partner. Discount retailers fear that such sanctions may lead to price increases for other Japanese-made goods, including consumer electronics. Bush, who once was U.S. Ambassador to China, told retail executives and vendors open trade is helpful in the country's relationship with Asia. He recalled his own administration's trade negotiations with the Japanese. "I was not happy with the progress we made," he admitted. "But my own view on dealing with Asia is you're apt to get more done with less public confrontation." Bush said his beliefs apply to China as well as Japan. "I believe strongly that the way to get more human rights is to continue to be actively engaged with them in trade. There are far, far more human rights in China than when Barbara and I lived there." Taking questions following his talk, Bush dodged a query about the next Republican presidential candidate. Another questioner, citing Bush's much publicized tube-sock shopping expedition in 1991, asked the former president to name his favorite stores. "I want to get out of this room alive," Bush joked. "I can't answer that question here. I may be nuts, but not that nuts."
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