GATT or Bust

November 18, 1994

The world trade agreement reached late last year and signed by 125 nations in April of this year will open up the world economy to the great benefit of the United States -- if Republicans in Congress let it happen.

Begun by President Reagan, pursued by President Bush, the "Uruguay round" of talks was a bipartisan effort behind a Republican initiative. President Clinton overcame the siren call of partisanship to bring the tortuous negotiations to closure, keeping the faith with a half-century of American efforts to expand world trade.

Beyond any doubt, President Clinton should make every conceivable effort to win enabling legislation from Congress, which requires a 60 percent procedural vote in the Senate, this year. Anything less would put the World Trade Organization, a strengthened version of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, behind its schedule next year, and possibly derail it entirely.

A delay of the enabling legislation until next year would very likely end the "fast track" procedure, by which the 500-page trade agreement is to be voted either up or down but not amended. For the new Congress to amend it before passage would be to reopen every clause for renegotiation. All bets would be off and the exercise would take years at best, if it would succeed at all.

The agreement benefits most segments of the U.S. economy by creating a more level playing field. It lowers foreign tariffs on U.S. manufactures, brings agriculture and service industries under the world trading system with greater access to formerly forbidden markets, and strengthens the protection of U.S. patents, copyrights and trademarks.

For Republican legislators of all people to throw a monkey wrench into this great enterprise because Bill Clinton happens to be the president of the day would be to betray their trust and the inheritance of the Grand Old Party. No decent reason has been advanced for delay, obstruction or crippling amendment.

The likes of House Republican leader Newt Gingrich and Senate Republican leader Bob Dole owe it to the nation, the party and their place in history to line up the votes for passage in a genuine bipartisan effort in this outgoing Congress. The crude effort of Sen. Jesse Helms as the next chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold all administration foreign policy hostage to delay should be repudiated by his colleagues and leaders.

To tie up passage now would be to obstruct world economic growth. It would penalize U.S. manufacturing, service industries, agriculture and labor. It would undermine U.S. leadership and credibility in the world. Responsibility for such onerous results would be heavy baggage for the leadership of either party or either Congress, old or new, to carry. The national interest calls for bipartisan cooperation now.

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