Clinton team fights for NAFTA on Capitol Hill

September 16, 1993|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration's top economic, diplomatic and trade officials launched the fight on Capitol Hill yesterday for votes for the North American Free Trade Agreement, but immediately ran into hostile fire.

While President Clinton took his pro-NAFTA message to the country with a trip to New Orleans, he dispatched his top lieutenants -- Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher and Trade Representative Mickey Kantor -- to Congress, where the fate of the treaty will be decided later this fall. Already, many senators are lining up against the treaty, which would create a free trade zone among the United States, Canada and Mexico.

"This is a loaded gun, aimed at the workers of this country, and we have got to stop it," said Democratic Senator Donald W. Riegle Jr., who expressed his concern that "tens of thousands" of auto jobs in his home state of Michigan would be lost to Mexico if the treaty is approved.

To counter the lost-jobs fear being fueled by the opposition, the administration produced its own warning -- of U.S. export markets lost to the Europeans and Japanese.

Mr. Kantor told the Senate Finance Committee: "I believe I could take this document to the European Community and the new Japanese government and put it on their desk and it would take no more than five minutes to get their agreement.

"Shame, shame on us if we allow these markets to be taken over by others. And, surely, if we pull away from these markets by rejecting this agreement we know who will be in there in a moment."

In New Orleans, Mr. Clinton visited the same port President George Bush visited less than a year ago to plug for the treaty. He mentioned the prospect of the free trade zone being extended throughout Latin America, revealing that he has received requests for similar agreements from the leaders of Chile, Argentina, and Venezuela.

Ross Perot, Texas billionaire, political maverick and leading NAFTA critic, has warned of the great "sucking sound" of 5.9 million U.S. jobs moving south to Mexico.

Mr. Perot, appearing on NBC's "Today" program yesterday, dismissed the charge from former President Jimmy Carter this week that he was "a demagogue" who was "extremely careless with the truth" on NAFTA.

He accused Mr. Carter of not "understanding how the Mexican workers live."

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