The nation needs fast track Clinton quest: President must be able to negotiate trade deals.

September 13, 1997

THE NATIONAL interest will suffer grievously if President Clinton fails to obtain the fast-track authority he seeks from Congress to negotiate multilateral trade agreements. Without it, other governments won't deal seriously because they won't know if the administration can deliver.

Fast track is jargon for Congress' relinquishing authority to amend legislation implementing trade agreements while retaining the right to reject them. It is necessary when many countries negotiate an agreement. Should Congress accept a deal only after a major rewrite, it would reopen the whole agreement and send negotiations back to Square One.

Congress must never give up its constitutional duty to reject an agreement it disapproves. But fast track is the only approach that makes sense in a shrinking world, where international trade looms larger in every country's economy every year. That's why fast track worked for 20 years under Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton.

It is needed now for the administration to advance and protect national interests in negotiations under the World Trade Organization (WTO). Negotiations to open markets for the service sector and for government procurement may begin next year. Negotiations on agriculture, where opening markets to U.S. farmers is essential, should follow the year after. Later, intellectual property is to be tackled, vital for such American industries as software, video, music and publishing.

Opposition to fast track stems from the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. Much of organized labor and the Democratic Party laments its passage in 1993. NAFTA, though on balance mildly beneficial to the U.S., is the reason fast track was allowed to lapse in 1994.

Though much is made of fast track to bring Chile into NAFTA, which is a good idea, that pales before the WTO negotiations. This is not a rerun of the NAFTA struggle. Our industries would be gravely harmed if the president could not go to bat for them before in WTO talks.

Denial of fast track would be unilateral disarmament in the diplomatic and trade wars, a self-inflicted wound impossible to justify.

Pub Date: 9/13/97

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