Free Trade Works Best for the U.S.

October 19, 1994|By BEN WATTENBERG

Washington -- Because both Republicans and Democrats have played politics with it, the congressional ratification on GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) will be the one-issue subject of a special session of Congress on November 30 and December 1.

This pretty well ensures a NAFTA-style major public flap, with anti-trade yahoos from every camp -- Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader, to name a few -- thumping their tambourines simultaneously.

There are good standard reasons to favor GATT, and another one as well. Among the standard arguments are these:

America is the world's biggest exporter. The value of U.S. exports and imports was 13 percent of GDP in 1970; it was 26 percent in 1993; projections show the rate rising with the passage of GATT.

It's no accident that we're the biggest exporter. We are a populous, wealthy country, with a vigorous and creative work force, using the most advanced technology, in the most industries. More exports help the world's biggest exporter.

GATT opens up, for the first time, commercial areas where America is particularly strong, like ''services,'' which includes banking, construction, software, tourism and telecommunications.

It defends ''intellectual property'' that is covered by trademarks, copyright and patents. This will yield profits to Americans for items that were previously ripped off by foreigners. It also opens up new agriculture markets for America's highly productive farm sector.

More global trade will raise American living standards and create new jobs. Because it reduces tariffs on our exports, it is also the functional equivalent of a big free tax cut. It will provide American consumers with goods at lower prices.

The enforcement arm of GATT, the ''World Trade Organization,'' is not a bogeyman to be feared, as opponents claim. It pushes other countries to play by rules that over the years too many nations have often flouted (including us). The possible penalties are only in the realm of countervailing tariffs. National sovereignty is not threatened.

Stripped to its essentials, the most powerful argument against GATT boils down to a case against the emerging new global economy. Thus, it's ''globalism'' that scares Pat Buchanan most. Let's put America first, he says.

Now, that might be a plausible argument for another country. A small and insignificant nation might justifiably fear losing national identity in a growing One World situation. But that is not our circumstance, which leads to another thought about the worthiness of GATT.

There was extended argument during the 1980s about ''Who's No. 1?'' That issue has now been settled. We are.

We are the No. 1 nation, geopolitically, militarily, culturally, ideologically, economically, linguistically, scientifically, technologically and educationally.

And the world is Americanizing. Even with our many problems, we remain the hope of the world. The great ideas that America has promoted are flourishing.

Democracy is growing in many places, and will yet bloom in the strangest places (keep your eye on Cuba). There is no longer much serious argument against the idea of market capitalism. American-style individualism has captured the minds of young people most everywhere. The idea of pluralism -- whether diverse peoples can share a piece of ground -- is the cause of much friction in a troubled world. America has shown best that it can work, although even we have our problems.

Americans have always had a high view of their nation. Our dollar bill grandly states Novus Ordum Seclorum -- ''A New Order for the Ages.'' Americans, even in their current sour mood, think that we stand for something important, and it's worth offering to the world.

GATT is not only a big step toward a global economy, but toward an overarching global culture, albeit with distinct subcultures.

In the age of communications satellites and international computer links, in a world of global entertainment, publicity and advertising -- all able to leap countries in a single bound -- it could hardly be otherwise.

When you're No. 1, the only superpower, the only nation with a globally appealing ideology, when you want to keep America first, that's the time to encourage globalism. GATT, the largest trade deal in history, does that.

PD Ben Wattenberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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