Free Trade = More Jobs

November 29, 1993

Orange juice, it's not just from Florida any more. Nor is peanut butter only from Georgia or cotton textiles from South Carolina.

While attention here has focused on U.S. trade relations with Mexico and Canada, and then with the nations of the Pacific Rim, a global economic tug of war has continued in relative obscurity. The stakes are far higher, and they will influence how much U.S. consumers pay for their groceries as well as for sophisticated electronics. Not to mention the potential creation of 1.4 million more jobs in this country in the next 10 years -- far more than could be sucked across the Rio Grande River by the North American Free Trade Agreement even in Ross Perot's wildest nightmares.

For seven years, some 110 nations have been trying to reach a new agreement on worldwide tariffs and trade restrictions. The goal, in its broadest terms, is to open markets of the industrialized nations to the farm products and processed goods of the Third World, while those growing nations lower their barriers to the machinery and sophisticated services of North America and Europe.

Considering the conflicting interests and emotional issues involved, it's remarkable the negotiators have progressed this far. It would be tragic if their efforts stumbled on frozen orange concentrate, peanut butter, textiles -- or Japanese rice, French movies or North Atlantic frozen fish.

The latest of a series of now-or-never deadlines comes in less than three weeks. Congress has agreed to vote on whatever deal President Clinton negotiates without trying to alter it -- a straight yes or no vote -- until Dec. 15. It's generally agreed that a revised General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade would not pass Congress if it were subject to amendment. So several countries are stonewalling on issues down to the wire.

Mr. Clinton also made the negotiations a little more difficult by trade-offs he offered to win congressional votes for NAFTA, including restrictions on Brazilian orange juice, Canadian peanut butter and a stretch-out of tariff reductions on textiles.

Ironically, few of the outstanding trade issues are all that central to anyone's economy. While the French continue to pander to their over-protected farmers, they are really digging in their heels on shielding their television audience from Hollywood films. And Washington is taking a hard line on opening Third World nations to American financial institutions.

All this does not bulk very large compared with the fruits of agreement. A liberalized GATT could add anywhere from $250 billion to $1.1 trillion to world trade in the next 10 years. The gradual reduction in trade barriers after World War II has greatly contributed to the general world prosperity since then. It would be folly not to continue.

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