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Bush administration gets back at Clinton for jab over trade pact

The Bush administration is brushing aside Bill Clinton's criticisms of a new free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, saying the Democrat had demonstrated that he was ignorant of the accord's details.

"Either he has been poorly briefed or has chosen to ignore much of what's in the agreement," a senior administration official told reporters at the White House on Tuesday.

"Of the various proposals he makes, we have already accomplished almost all of them, and those that we haven't accomplished we believe are actually detrimental," said the official, who spoke on condition he not be named.

Clinton on Sunday endorsed the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But he qualified his support with calls for supplemental agreements with Canada and Mexico on environmental and worker safety issues.

He also said U.S. lawmakers should provide significant retraining, health benefits and in-come supplements to workers displaced by the accord.

The senior U.S. official said there was "an entire chapter" in the NAFTA agreement creating a safeguard to prevent harm to U.S. workers and farmers from any surge of new imports as trade barriers are lowered.

He said there were also provisions giving the United States the ability to bar entry to strike-breakers from other countries, and to enforce and strengthen U.S. environmentalstandards.

The NAFTA accord is to be initialled today by officials from the United States, Canada and Mexico in a ceremony attended by President Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Mexican President Carlos Salinas in San Antonio, Texas.

The Bush administration thinks the accord will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the long run through increased U.S. exports to Mexico and Canada.