Study Expects Free Trade Pact to Aid Economy

Article excerpt

By Keith Brasher

N.Y. Times News Service

WASHINGTON _ The first comprehensive assessment of the North American Free Trade Agreement by a federal agency has found that the pact will help overall American economic output and employment slightly, while producing job losses in the auto, household appliance and apparel manufacturing industries.

The study by the International Trade Commission, an independent federal agency, buttresses claims made for the agreement by the Bush administration and rebuts some of the criticism from labor unions and some members of Congress who have predicted huge job losses.

The study, to be made public later this week, has been awaited on Capitol Hill and at the White House as the first independent evaluation of the pact's merits. It was sent to the Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means Committees on Monday night, and a member of Congress allowed a reporter to examine it Tuesday.

The report provides little ammunition to critics who have called for extensive renegotiation of the agreement.

If approved by Congress, the trade agreement would eliminate _ over the next 15 years _ virtually all import-export barriers among the United States, Canada and Mexico.

President Clinton promised during the campaign to negotiate three side agreements covering workers' rights, environmental issues and import surges, but said that he would not renegotiate the half-foot-thick basic text of the agreement.

But Mickey Kantor, the U.S. trade representative, muddied that issue at his Senate confirmation hearing Jan. 19, when he said that he hoped to address the sugar industry's concerns through one of the side agreements.

The free-trade pact is one of several large trade issues facing the Clinton administration. Also Tuesday, Senator Max S. Baucus, D-Mont., who heads the Senate Finance Committee's trade panel, introduced legislation to revive the expired Super 301 law, which had set a fixed schedule of administration action against foreign countries that trade unfairly, as opposed to indefinite negotiation. The law expired at the end of 1990.

Clinton endorsed Super 301 during the election campaign, and it is expected to become law this year. …