Pact nearly final politics just begun

September 09, 1992|By Journal of Commerce

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration released what it called a final text of the North American free-trade pact yesterday, but the document failed to end bickering in the presidential campaign about the agreement.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, accused President Bush of irresponsibly politicizing the pact in the campaign, thus threatening Democratic support for it in Congress.

Senator Bentsen charged at a hearing that the text still has important holes in it and that it was unfair for Mr. Bush to demand that Democratic opponent Bill Clinton say whether he will oppose it. Mr. Bentsen cited newspaper reports that said hard bargaining continued after the agreement was announced on Aug. 12.

"Apparently President Bush thought Governor Clinton should sign on the dotted line -- when there wasn't even a dotted line to sign," Mr. Bentsen said.

U.S. Trade Representative Carla A. Hills admitted that the nearly 2,000-page text still has "brackets" or unresolved sections, but she insisted they were "technical" points that would not substantively affect the pact.

Mr. Bentsen, the foremost champion of the agreement in Congress, told Mrs. Hills the Bush administration was now at a crossroads at which it "needs to decide whether it wants to treat this agreement as a campaign issue or as the serious effort I worked so hard for last year and ever since."

Democratic sources said Mr. Clinton is expected to make a more detailed statement on the trade agreement by the end of this week.

The Democratic nominee is expected to criticize the agreement for not specifying how environmental standards would be enforced, and he will renew his attack on Mr. Bush for proposing a worker retraining program without specifying what budget cuts would be made to pay for it. It is unlikely that Mr. Clinton will comment directly on the commercial details of the pact.

While one trade official called the text issued yesterday "99.9 percent complete," it will not truly be final until it is transmitted to Congress in the next few weeks. A disclaimer on its first page says the text is "currently undergoing legal review in order to ensure the agreement's overall consistency and clarity."

Lawyers worked until 4 a.m. Monday to resolve most disputes about wording in the text and said they have several more weeks of work before the agreement is completed.

A glance through the text shows substantive issues unresolved.

In one case, summaries of the agreement's chapter on government procurement say the pact will apply to contracts exceeding $50,000 by all federal agencies in the three countries. But an annex in the agreement says that for the United States and Canada, the threshold is $25,000 for supplying goods and $50,000 for supplying services.

Negotiators admit that U.S. pressure to release the text did not give them enough time to resolve this relatively uncontroversial point.

The text contains many details that have not been discussed. For example, Hollywood producers are expected to complain about expanding Canada's right to discriminate against American companies to protect "cultural industries." Yet Hollywood is likely to accept a provision that reserves 30 percent of Mexico's movie theaters for Mexican film distributors. Current Mexican law reserves 50 percent of the theaters for Mexican companies.

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