Trade policy under Clinton II NAFTA expansion: Administration has to fight for 'fast track' authority in Congress.

February 03, 1997

AS AMERICA's chief battler in economic diplomacy, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky has assured senators she will be tough on the Chinese, tough on the Japanese and tough on any other nation seeking to thwart the U.S. drive for freer market access everywhere. But her main job may be to get tough with senators about to confirm her, with their colleagues in the House and with the White House.

At the top of her priority list is the need for "fast track" authority to negotiate trade agreements that won't be torn apart by protectionists and other special interest groups in Congress. The Clinton administration's failure to push hard for this authority, mainly because of obstruction from organized labor and environmentalists, explains why Chile has been kept waiting for three years for a chance to join the North American Free Trade Association. As a result, Chile has drawn closer to Mercosur, a rival trade grouping in South America.

The U.S. has good reason to worry about its economic policies in this hemisphere, which early in the next century will outstrip Europe and Asia as the chief U.S. trading area. With NAFTA limited to the U.S., Mexico and Canada, Caribbean countries are already feeling the impact of the tariff-free access Mexico has to the vast U.S market. Ms. Barshefsky warned about a potential "vacuum" in U.S. leadership.

"Fast track" authority, the key legislative device in the creation of NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, enabled the administration to offer Congress pacts that had to be voted up or down, without amendment. Republicans have generally been supportive of this arrangement. But they are been leery of demands from Democrats that U.S. labor and environmental standards be imposed on other countries as a part of trade negotiations.

The more the U.S. imposes such conditions on trade talks, the more difficult it is for the U.S. to bring other countries into regional and global agreements that have done so much to boost the U.S. economy. While bilateral pacts have their uses, Ms. Barshefsky has compared them to "taking an ice pick to Everest."

Pub Date: 2/03/97

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