Time for GATT

November 28, 1994

The world trade agreement that Congress considers this week is the culmination of six decades of bipartisan crusade for freer trade, access of U.S. products to all markets and protection for American inventions and ideas.

The Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade negotiation was President Reagan's initiative. Presidents Bush and Clinton kept the faith. The World Trade Organization, which the new agreement will create, responds to the American demand for a fair and efficient means of dispute resolution for trade.

The bipartisan continuity of administrations on this issue deserves equal bipartisan support and continuity in Congress, from both the outgoing 103rd and the newly elected 104th. Thanks to House Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich and Senate majority-leader-to-be Bob Dole -- true to the Republican heritage on trade -- that support exists.

Some neo-isolationist conservative Republicans and neo-protectionist liberal Democrats will remain opposed for their own ideological or special-interest reasons. But most Republican and Democratic leaders have now put the principle of free trade and the national interest ahead of short-sighted partisan gamesmanship.

The enabling legislation should be passed under "fast-track" provisions in this Congress to get the World Trade Organization up and running on the agreed timetable. Congress put this hot issue in the freezer until after the election, which was never a valid argument for putting it off to the 104th Congress. An amending frenzy there would kill it.

The new GATT excels the old in access to markets for U.S. agriculture and services, in protections for U.S. patents and copyrights, and in mechanisms to resolve the disputes that will inevitably occur. The main point is that it opens markets for American workers and companies.

In his coy flirtation, Senator Dole reminded the Democratic president that his frail grip of the current Democratic Congress requires Republican support on this crucial free-trade vote. Fair enough. In seeking substantive trade-offs -- such as a capital gains tax which ought to stand or fall on its merits -- Mr. Dole deserved rebuff. What he was given by the Clinton administration was a little window dressing.

The World Trade Organization does not dilute U.S. sovereignty. The agreement provides for any country's withdrawal. What Mr. Clinton gave to Mr. Dole was a structure -- blurring administrative, judicial and legislative distinctions -- for the U.S. to consider such a move. How the U.S. goes about this is an internal matter.

Passage of the world trade agreement would be a win-win scenario, showing that gridlock is not insurmountable. It would further demonstrate that Democratic and Republican legislators are equally able to put the national interest first.

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