Seeing political risk in trade disputes, Clinton delays response to farm pact

November 22, 1992|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- President-elect Bill Clinton is holding off o embracing the agreement on farm subsidies between the United States and Europe that was announced Friday, recognizing that the broad and complex world-trade talks are fraught with political dangers for him.

Yesterday in Little Rock, Ark., Mr. Clinton was asked about the agreement and replied, "I haven't reviewed it. I've got to look at it."

Dee Dee Myers, Mr. Clinton's press secretary, added yesterday in an interview, "He's encouraged by the progress" in the farm subsidies agreement. "He just wants to be sure about the details."

She said Mr. Clinton would take the same cautious approach that he took to the free-trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, carefully reviewing the text of the agreement before endorsing it.

The farm compromise, if it holds, will certainly allow Mr. Clinton to breathe a lot more easily when he takes office by averting a trade war that could send world trade and stock markets tumbling.

The breakthrough will also bring to the forefront a variety of other issues on which Mr. Clinton is likely to face considerable pressure from Capitol Hill -- and from groups that supported him, including textile and steel workers and the Hollywood film industry.

"The agricultural breakthrough is good, and the Bush administration deserves credit for having achieved that," House

Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri said Friday night. "But I'm worried that now that we've spent a lot of capital to get that, the Europeans will demand a lot of changes on other provisions in the trade talks that will be to our great disadvantage."

In the coming weeks, the Bush administration will be negotiating such sensitive issues as ending restrictions on apparel imports, reducing Europe's restrictions on the broadcasting of U.S. films on its television networks and responding to Europe's demands that Washington weaken its anti-dumping laws. The talks are being held by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the world body that oversees trade.

If the agreement is not completed by Jan. 20, Mr. Clinton's team will take over these difficult negotiations. It is a matter of debate whether it would be a good thing for Mr. Clinton if the trade talks are completed before he takes office.

If President Bush oversees completion of the talks, and Congress is dissatisfied with the agreement, Mr. Bush and not Mr. Clinton will take most of the heat. On the other hand, if Mr. Clinton is dissatisfied with some provisions, he could push for additional changes as he did with the North American Free Trade Agreement. With so many more nations involved, however, change will not be easy.

Many trade experts in Washington predict that Mr. Clinton will be compelled to embrace whatever pact the Bush administration might negotiate, even if he has reservations about several parts of it.

To reject an accord negotiated by his predecessor would no doubt lead to harsh criticism from U.S. allies and other countries, as well as to complaints domestically that Mr. Clinton was a protectionist and not a free-trader.

"The talks have been going on for six years, and we would like to see them resolved," Ms. Myers said.

The Bush administration's trade negotiators, led by U.S. Trade Representative Carla A. Hills, say they hope to have a basic agreement on all issues in the world-trade talks by Dec. 20. After that, they say, it will take several more weeks to work out hundreds of details.

The administration thus still hopes to meet the March 3 "fast-track" deadline for notifying Congress of a completed accord. Under fast-track rules, Congress must vote on the agreement without being able to amend it. The fast-track concept is intended to prevent the 535 members of Congress from picking apart bit by bit agreements negotiated with foreign governments that have been painstakingly negotiated.

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