President George H.W. Bush, free-trade proponent, ethanol supporter, dies at 94

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President George H. W. Bush, an important proponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was also under pressure from American car manufacturers to ease Japanese imports in the late 1980s and early 1990s, died on Friday. He was 94.

Bush was also in favor of a wider use of ethanol in cars and light trucks to reduce dependence on the foreign oil nation and supported safety advances such as airbags in light trucks.

US car manufacturers were squeezed when they faced a diminishing US sales of the 1990-91 recession in a market increasingly dominated by Japanese competition.

Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca wrote a letter to Bush in March 1991 asking the president to restrict Japan's imports. "There would be an immediate impetus for industry and the economy if Japan temporarily withdrawn from their relentless pursuit of greater market share in the United States," Iacocca wrote to the president.

But Bush, who was largely opposed to government-imposed quotas, said he would not help on the trade front. Instead, he accompanied Iacocca, General Motors chairman Robert Stempel and Harold Poling of Ford Motor Co. in Japan to meet Japanese executives from Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi and Mazda in January 1992.

Bush has also raised the concerns of the Detroit 3 during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa. A joint statement issued by the two leaders after the meeting, in which the purchase targets were drawn up to which Japanese car companies would have to comply.

The car manufacturers left the trip as unsatisfied as they arrived. US executives still regarded Japan as a closed country that would not help cultivate open global trade, while Japanese officials said US government officials still did not understand that they had to change their auto industry to compete, not to manipulate trade through legislation or deals.

The trip to Japan included the unfortunate but memorable scene in which Bush spit in the lap of the Japanese prime minister.

In December 1992, Bush also signed the North American Free Trade Act, which was later re-discussed by President Bill Clinton and adopted by legislators during his presidency.

Bush had long argued for a trade agreement between the three North American countries. According to critics of the deal, American jobs would go to Mexico, where employees would be paid less and labor laws would be much smoother. But Bush did not agree with that.

The Trump administration this year signed a deal with Mexico and Canada to redesign NAFTA and encourage more US manufacturing tasks and higher US content for light vehicles produced in the region.

Bush said NAFTA would strengthen Mexico and create a flourishing economy where Mexican consumers would want American goods such as cars and light trucks.

"In order to consolidate democracy, the gaps that separate the few who are very rich from the many who are very poor, who divide the citizens of military institutions, who distribute citizens of European heritage of indigenous peoples, these gaps must be bridged, and economic reforms should provide for upward mobility and new opportunities for a better life for all citizens of North and South America, "Bush said after signing an agreement to create NAFTA.

Early years

Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1924. He enrolled as a pilot in the navy when he was 18 and fought in the Second World War. He went to Yale University, where he obtained a degree in economics and made Phi Beta Kappa, and then moved to Odessa, Texas to join an oilfield company, a subsidiary of Dresser Industries, on whose plate his father was. Dresser was taken over by his competitor in 1998, Halliburton Co. After his apprenticeship, Bush settled in Midland, Texas, and helped to start a new business by buying and developing oil lease.

With two partners, brothers Hugh and William Liedtke, Bush founded Zapata Petroleum Co. in 1953, the name inspired by the Marlon Brando film "Viva Zapata!" From 1952! By the end of the 1950s, Bush moved his family to Houston and ran a spur of Zapata that generated profits from high-risk shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico.

He launched his political career in 1967 and served two terms in the home of the United States of Texas Delegates.

After a failed campaign for a US Senate seat that represented Texas, President Richard Nixon Bush appointed ambassador to the United Nations in 1971. He later served as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

President Gerald Ford appointed Bush in 1974 as head of the US liaison office in the People's Republic of China. In his last position before becoming president, Bush became the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Although Bush lost the Republican nomination of 1980 to Ronald Reagan, he was elected National Vice President by Reagan.

Bush became president in early 1989 after defeating Democrat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 general election. Administrative officials told the White House that Bush would usher in a new equilibrium for the auto industry, between a barrage of new security and emission standards in the 1970s and deregulation and lack of government access by consumers and environmentalists during the Reagan years.

Eternal security lawyer Ralph Nader regained access to government data and information.

The late Clarence Ditlow, then director of the Center for Auto Safety, told Automotive News in 1989 that he felt something different under the Bush White House.

The Regan administration consisted of those who were "real ideologues who campaigned against deregulation and were not concerned about public opinion," Ditlow said. "Bush does not come from the same ideological style, he reacts to public opinion, you see it with the environment and with the management of the oil disaster of Exxon (which took place in 1989)."

Bush proposed to re-approve the Clean Air Act in April 1989 with an amendment requiring car manufacturers to sell 1 million "clean" vehicles each year by 1997. It was the first presidential plan for a clean-air bill in 10 years.

CAFE increased

Under Bush, the national average fuel consumption standard of the nation was increased from 26.5 mpg to 27.5 mpg. Bush worked on the development of security mandates, such as passive restrictions for light trucks. He refused to call Japan an unfair trading partner, as many in the automotive industry asked, although Japanese car manufacturers dominated the American market.

In 1992, however, Bush canceled some environmental proposals, such as the requirement that light vehicles be designed and equipped with fuel vapor recovery buses to reduce pollution during refueling.

In the fall of 1992, in search of re-election, Bush faced Democrat Bill Clinton, a Governor of Arkansas, as well as Ross Perot, the billionaire-founder of Electronic Data Systems Corp. and a former General Motors director who runs independently.

On the election day, Clinton captured 43 percent of the votes for the 37 percent of Bush, while Perot won almost 19 percent. Bush would later say of Perot, "I think he cost me the election, and I do not like him." Others doubt that Perot had a decisive influence on the result.

Bloomberg contributed to this report. Stephanie Hernandez McGavin is a free-lance reporter for Automotive News.