Ready-Made Job for Gore the Vice President Is Seen as an Ideal Person to Lead the Final Negotiation and Implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement

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IN his economic address to Congress, President Clinton reaffirmed his intention to move ahead with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), with "appropriate safeguards for our workers and the environment." Underlying the statement is the president's concern that unfair trade practices could cost United States jobs, counteracting the promise of job creation under free trade and jeopardizing the gains in employment that are essential to his plan for economic renewal.

In view of the importance of a well-designed trade agreement to the economic, social, and environmental welfare of the continent, the president should assign the same high level of attention and talent to the international component of his economic plan as he has been devoting to the domestic component. A particularly effective way of doing this would be to ask the vice president to oversee the final negotiation and implementation of NAFTA and its parallel agreements.

Wrapping up a good trade agreement will require a combination of two skills. One is the ability to work closely with Congress to secure a strong package that will command broad support. The other is familiarity with international law and its application to enforcement of labor and environmental standards.

Vice President Al Gore Jr. is ideally suited for both tasks. He is the perfect liaison between the White House and Congress. Unlike the president, who has already twice stumbled into needless confrontations with powerful committee chairmen, the vice president is savvy in the ways of Capitol Hill. As a consummate team player, Vice President Gore will be able to marshal support from congressional power brokers to achieve the administration's legislative goals.

In the case of NAFTA, that will mean taking into account the concerns of such well-versed committee chairmen as Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D) of New York, who heads the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. John LaFalce (D) of New York, who heads the House Committee on Small Business. Though both strongly support open trade, they are just as emphatic in pointing out that free trade must rest on a secure foundation of respect for human rights and due process, a foundation so far lacking in Mexico. Parallel misgivings are being voiced by House Democratic Majority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri, who warns that without strong labor and environmental guarantees, NAFTA will export good US jobs to Mexico.

These concerns about human rights and the rule of law mesh well with the vice president's interest in enforcing environmental standards. His best-selling book - "Earth in the Balance" - demonstrated both his grasp of the issues and their policy implications. Gore also won worldwide acclaim for his contribution to the United Nations environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro, where he opposed former President Bush's efforts to gut treaties that would limit damage to the global environment. …