CARACAS, Venezuela - Switching gears on a key policy question, President Clinton said yesterday that the drive for free trade must be paired with protections for the less-well-off who are suddenly thrust into the global economy.
"Whether we like it or not, global integration is on a fast track," Mr. Clinton said yesterday in a speech here in the Venezuelan capital.
But, he added, "we must also recognize that no democracy, including the United States, has yet found the perfect formula for growing a free economy while preserving and extending the social contract for all our people. That is why we must work harder to alleviate poverty, lift the conditions of working people throughout the hemisphere and give everyone a chance to be a winner in the new economy."
Mr. Clinton delivered his message that "social justice" should be a goal of trade policy before flying off to Brasilia, Brazil, yesterday afternoon for the second leg of his three-country South American tour. His text appeared aimed as much at politicians in Washington as at his audience in South America.
Many in the president's own Democratic Party, allied with the AFL-CIO, and even a number of conservative Republicans have pressed the administration to include human rights, labor standards and environmental protections in trade negotiations.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, a potential contender for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination, received a rousing reception from organized labor last month when he showed pictures of the horrific conditions he encountered on a visit to the Mexican border - the byproduct, he said, of unchecked free trade.
Mr. Gephardt has scored political points by insisting that the "fast-track" negotiating authority to cut trade deals that Mr. Clinton wants be accompanied by requirements for binding worker protections and environmental standards.
The president used the phrase "social justice" or "social contract" three times in his relatively brief Caracas address. He spoke in front of the National Pantheon, the burial place of Simon Bolivar, who liberated much of the continent from Spanish rule.
The gap between rich and poor is a major concern throughout South America, where land and industrial assets are often held in a few hands and millions work and live in poverty, without access to education or health care.
Deputy National Security Adviser Jim Steinberg said the president would sound the theme repeatedly as he travels in Brazil and Argentina over the next six days. …