One issue has global consequences, the other is a decidedly local preoccupation. As President Clinton finished a five-day New Zealand sojourn today, he talked about the warming of the planet in the morning, and lamb chops in the afternoon.
This morning, Clinton appeared at the International Antarctic Center, the facility on New Zealand's South Island from which most U.S. expeditions to the polar continent are launched. With celebrated Mount Everest and Antarctic explorer Sir Edmund Hillary in attendance, Clinton announced that the United States is releasing formerly classified satellite images that will be of use to scientists studying Antarctica's icy "dry valleys," and may shed light on the ecological consequences of global warming.
At an afternoon news conference with New Zealand Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, Clinton was put on the defensive about the lamb issue, a controversy of acute interest here as well as in some western ranching states back home. New Zealanders are fuming over what they regard as a protectionist action by Clinton, imposing tariffs on imported lamb--almost all of which comes from Australia or New Zealand.
Clinton's defense was tepid, apparently reflecting some ambivalence over what even some senior officials in his own administration believe was a questionable call, made largely to accommodate western Democratic lawmakers and at odds with the president's free-trade philosophy. Tariff opponents say New Zealand--which has 36 million sheep, 12 times its human population--does nothing more than market a desirable product that Americans are eager to buy.
But last summer, the U.S. International Trade Commission, in a divided vote, sided with U.S. farmers who alleged unfair practices after a surge in foreign lamb's U.S. market share--from 15 percent to 30 percent. Under Clinton's action, tariffs are on a sliding scale ranging from 9 percent on some lamb, and up to 40 percent as the volume of imports increase.
Clinton pointed out that he was following the ITC recommendation. But, far from emphasizing the merits of his action, he noted that New Zealand is appealing to the World Trade Organization. "If I were in your position, that's exactly what I'd do," he said.
Shipley, too, seemed eager to soften any harsh notes over the issue. She joked that New Zealand had tried to win Clinton's sympathy during the visit by feeding him prodigious quantities of New Zealand lamb, which some chefs say is superior to the U.S. variety. "I've eaten it all; not so much as a scrap has escaped my attention," Clinton said.
Shipley then turned serious: "This is an issue that New Zealand felt keenly. The WTO is the right forum. We will purse that actively. But it does not spill over into what we view as not only a very valuable market for New Zealand agricultural exports, but also a very warm relationship."
Clinton's action on the Antarctic satellite images mirrored an announcement Vice President Gore made last month about Arctic images. Clinton struck a theme he has returned to frequently in recent remarks about global warming. He asserted that people must abandon a "big idea" that was valid for decades but now is obsolete--that poor nations can advance only by developing heavily polluting industrial bases.
"We now know that technologies that permit breathtaking advances in energy conservation, and the use of alternative forms of energy, make it possible to grow the economy faster while healing the environment, and that . . . it is no longer necessary to burn up the atmosphere to create economic opportunity," Clinton said.
The United States is the world's largest producer of "greenhouse gases" that many scientists believe are warming the earth, but pollution is growing at the fastest rate in the Third World--a challenge to efforts to devise an international accord to combat the problem.
Clinton has encountered Hillary on a handful of occasions on this trip. The New Zealand native--who in 1953 with a Sherpa named Tenzing Norgay made the first climb to the summit of Mount Everest, and five years later was the first to make a land crossing of Antarctica--just turned 80, and he introduced Clinton at his speech today.
The Christchurch stop was at the end of a New Zealand trip that Clinton made principally to attend the annual leaders' summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Auckland. After a black-tie dinner with Shipley tonight, Clinton boarded Air Force One for the 20-hour trip back to Washington. With Hurricane Floyd heading up the Atlantic coast, he canceled a planned golf layover in Hawaii to be on hand for the federal government's emergency preparations.