When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) entered into force on January 1, 1994, it created the world's largest free trade zone. Roy L. Heenan et al., NAFTA/NAALC, in International Labor and Employment Laws 20-1 (2d ed., William L. Keller & Timothy J. Darby, eds., 2003) (hereinafter Heenan NAFTA/NAALC). NAFTA also was, by virtue of its labor side agreement, the first trade agreement significantly linking labor rights and trade. Bob Hepple, Labour Laws and Global Trade 107 (2005) (hereinafter Hepple, Labour Laws). Indeed, the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) has provided a template, with some important variations, for systems of cross-border workplace law monitoring in all of the United States' subsequently negotiated free trade agreements. Marley S. Weiss, Two Steps Forward, One Step Back – or Vice Versa: Labor Rights Under Free Trade Agreements from NAFTA, Through Jordan, Via Chile, to Latin America, and Beyond, 37 U.S.F. L. Rev. 689, 689-90 (2003) (hereinafter Weiss, Two Steps).
Despite its subsequent effect, the NAALC at the time of its drafting was an afterthought. Weiss, Two Steps, at 701. NAFTA, at its 1992 signing by U.S. President George H. W. Bush, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, lacked detailed labor and environmental chapters. That omission provoked considerable public discussion, and was a major issue in the 1992 U.S. presidential campaign. Heenan, NAFTA/NAALC, at 20-2, 20-7.