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  U.S., Jordan Agree on Trade Deal

By Martin Crutsinger
AP Economics Writer
Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2000; 7:15 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON –– The United States and Jordan reached agreement Tuesday on a precedent-setting free trade deal that for the first time would protect labor rights and environmental standards, long a goal of two major Democratic constituencies.

The deal, which would remove all trade barriers between the two nations over the next 10 years, is only the fourth such pact the United States has with other countries. The others are with Canada, Mexico and Israel.

Congress must approve the agreement before it takes effect, but its fate is uncertain given Republican opposition to linking trade with labor and the environment. The Clinton administration said the pact will not be sent to Congress for approval until next year.

The negotiations, which began only this year, were completed in record time for such significant issues because of the personal interest of both President Clinton and King Abdullah of Jordan.

Clinton saw the pact as a way to bolster a principal U.S. partner in the Middle East peace process and at the same time set the labor-environment precedent for a trade deal. The United States wanted to do that with last year's failed effort by the World Trade Organization to launch new global trade talks in Seattle.

While the agreement to eliminate all barriers to trade between the two nations was seen as having little economic impact in the United States because the volume of trade is so small, it could give an important boost to Jordan's struggling economy by encouraging investment by firms seeking export opportunities to the United States.

Abdullah has made reform of Jordan's economy a main goal since he took over leadership after the February 1999 death of his father, King Hussein.

Labor unions and environmental groups, Democratic constituencies that Vice President Al Gore is trying to court in his presidential bid, praised the labor and environmental safeguards in the Jordan deal as a small but important first step.

Anti-globalization forces have charged that by ignoring those considerations trade agreements encourage a race to the bottom in which poor countries follow lax standards as a way to attract manufacturing jobs away from the United States and other developed countries.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called the U.S.-Jordan agreement "a small step toward our ultimate goal of making workers' rights and environmental protections an integral part of universally applied trade rules."

"This is the greenest trade deal in years," said David Schorr, an official with the World Wildlife Fund.

Many GOP lawmakers and their friends in business see inclusion of labor and the environment in trade deals as a diversion from the primary goal of tearing down trade barriers to boost economic growth.

That view is also strongly held by most Third World countries.

Franklin Vargo, a vice president at the National Association of Manufacturers, said trade deals should be used "to expand trade. When other provisions are put in, that gives us cause for concern."

The economic impact of the agreement will be small in the United States because the country imports relatively little from Jordan, just $31 million last year, mainly shipments of jewelry, men's coats and works of art and antiquities.

The United States exported $275.6 million to Jordan in 1999, the biggest sales being aircraft, followed by farm goods such as wheat, vegetable oils, rice, tobacco and maize.


On the Net:

On the Net: Office of the U.S. Trade Representative:

Jordanian Embassy, Washington:

The Jordanian American Business Association:

© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press

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