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Get Back to the Fast Track on Trade

By Bob Dole
Monday, November 3, 1997; Page A21

As Congress rushes to complete its work and adjourn this week, I have found myself in the unusual position of urging my former colleagues to stay – at least until they pass legislation giving fast-track trade negotiating authority to President Clinton.

During my tenure in the Senate, I often made the point that we could do more good by going home and listening to our constituents than by staying in Washington. But the decision to give the president fast-track authority is urgent and must be made now. The initial steps already have been taken in both Houses. Now it is up to the president, his administration and congressional leaders to make the case for passage.

Very simply, passing fast track is the right thing to do. Our nation's future prosperity – the good jobs that will provide a living for our children and grandchildren – will be created through international trade. Members have recognized this reality, on a bipartisan basis, for more than 20 years, giving fast-track authority to every president from Gerald Ford to George Bush.

Today it is more apparent than ever that the debate between advocates of free trade and protectionism is over. Global trade is a fact of life rather than a policy position. That is why we cannot cede leadership in developing markets to our competitors through inaction, thereby endangering America's economic future and abandoning our responsibility to lead as the sole remaining superpower.

During Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit, it has been instructive to look at China's efforts to expand its export markets and international influence, not just in Asia but in our own back yard. China has targeted Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Venezuela as "strategic priorities" to develop bilateral trade. While our elected leaders continue to ponder whether we will be fully engaged in the global economy, China is moving forward to reach free-trade agreements giving Chinese goods and services a significant tariff advantage that will eliminate the U.S. edge in productivity and proximity. The European Union also is working with the Mercosur trading block (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and associate members Chile and Bolivia) to create a partnership that will exclude the United States and favor European products.

Latin American countries are negotiating bilateral and multilateral agreements at a rate that will make it unnecessary for them to wait for the United States. In a region that is projected to be the United States' largest market in just a few years, exceeding $200 billion in trade by 2002, we are allowing competitors to eliminate our natural advantage. If this trend continues without any action on our part, we will soon need Latin America as a trading partner more than it needs us.

Emboldened by our inaction, French President Jacques Chirac recently declared, "Latin America's essential economic interests . . . lie not with the United States but with Europe." His comments are indicative of the growing belief that the United States lacks the political will to seize the lead in trade with developing nations. We must prove Chirac and others of like mind wrong.

Some may ask why it matters whether other countries beat us in securing trade pacts with developing nations. A better question, however, is: What are we waiting for?

Global leadership has enormous benefits – it increases our security and creates a multiplier effect for our exports. When we lead, the world accepts our way of doing business and our industrial standards, which, in turn, increases U.S. sales abroad. If China or the European Union beat us into developing markets, they will set the rules by which trade is conducted and influence the evolution of industry in fast-growing countries to their benefit.

Given that 96 percent of the world's consumers live outside the United States and that the global economy will grow at three times the rate of the U.S. economy, it is a certainty that many of tomorrow's high-paying American jobs will be created through exports. Every $1 billion in new American exports creates 15,000 to 20,000 American jobs. And, already, more than a quarter of our economic growth and more than 10 million jobs are the direct result of overseas trade.

In order to honestly and thoroughly consider fast track, each member of Congress must recognize that the president still must consult with Congress in negotiating trade deals and that no agreement will go into effect without being passed by a majority in both houses of Congress. Fast track is a vote on process, not on substance. It would be a travesty for the leader of the greatest nation on earth not to be free to negotiate with his counterparts as an equal.

The president also needs to lead on this issue. As the leader of his party, as well as our nation, President Clinton must step up his efforts to persuade fellow Democrats to support this initiative. Fast track will not pass the House with a few dozen votes from the minority: We need an all-out presidential push. The fate of fast-track legislation this fall may determine whether the president ever will negotiate another trade agreement.

The private sector – the companies that will create new jobs based on exports – also must make more forcefully the case to the American public and Congress that passing fast-track legislation is vital to America's continued economic growth.

If Congress fails to pass fast-track legislation before adjourning for the year, the danger is that, because of election-year politics in 1998, it will not pass until the 106th Congress in 1999 – or even 2001, after the next presidential election. By then, the working people of America will have lost unnecessarily.

Global trade is inevitable, and presidential fast-track authority is indispensable if America is to lead the community of nations into the next century.

Now is the time for the president and Congress to work together and pass fast-track legislation.

The writer is former Senate majority leader and the Republican nominee for president in 1996.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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