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GIVE THE PRESIDENT TRADE POWER



Published: Fri, April 12, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Chicago Tribune: President Bush has asked the U.S. Senate to take up by April 22 the bill granting him trade promotion authority. Informally known as "fast track" authority, it gives the president power to negotiate trade deals that Congress can vote up or down, but cannot amend.

The Senate must comply. This nation has benefited richly from free and open trade, and it is essential that the president be empowered to negotiate trade treaties on its behalf.

As it is, the president can negotiate deals, but there is no guarantee Congress won't rewrite them until they bear no resemblance to what was originally negotiated. Understandably, this gives our trading partners pause.

Five previous presidents -- Republican and Democrat -- have been granted this power. But it lapsed in 1994 and, over the last eight years, has become the object of a political tug-of-war between the White House and Congress. The trade promotion bill authority passed the House by just one vote last December.

"The time of delay must end," Bush told a State Department gathering of diplomats last week in an address. He's right.

While the U.S. president has been without this authority, the rest of the world has hardly been standing still. The president pointed out there are more than 150 regional free trade and customs agreements in the world. The European Union is party to 31 of them, Mexico to 10 and the U.S. to just three.

"While we have been delaying, they've been trading," he said.

Disappointing performance: Bush's recent actions on the trade front have been disappointing. He agreed to tariffs on steel imports from Europe, Russia, Brazil and elsewhere and on lumber imports from Canada. We have been highly critical of those actions because they sacrificed the broader national interest -- and the president's moral authority on the trade issue -- for narrow political interests.

By seeking a deadline for passage of this important bill, though, Bush has a chance to regain some credibility -- provided he fights vigorously for it.

He took an important step in his remarks by laying out a compelling case that free trade is both good for the United States and our poorer trading partners.

Time and again, it has been shown that free trade opens the door for the creation of many more jobs than it costs, and, overall, raises the prosperity of societies that engage in it.

Bush directly addressed the contentious issue of adding labor and environmental protections to trade treaties, something Democrats avidly support. "A prosperous nation is one more likely to take care of its workers," Bush said. "And a prosperous nation is one more likely ... to be able to afford the technology necessary to protect the environment."

The biggest stumbling block to passage of trade promotion authority appears to be Senate Democrats' fears about the impact on workers.

The price may be more money to help American workers hurt by free trade. If that's the necessary tradeoff, so be it.




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