Rx for Trade Policy

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 19, 2005 | Go to article overview

Rx for Trade Policy


Byline: William Krist, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

It is time for a new approach to trade policy - or more accurately, to return to bipartisanship, the approach that worked so well from the end of World War II until the mid-'90s.

Trade legislation once passed Congress with overwhelming majorities. The Tokyo Round agreement passed the House in 1979 by a 395-7 vote. As recent as 1994, the Uruguay Round Trade Agreement passed by 288-146. Contrast that with this year, when the House passed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) by the narrowest of margins (217-215) on July 27.

To get that razor-thin victory, enormous effort was required by the administration, and a number of questionable deals were needed to get the votes. In addition to agreeing to amend the CAFTA agreement to further limit textile trade with the Central American countries, the administration reportedly found it necessary to agree on curbing textile imports from China, limiting sugar imports, and adding pork to the highway bill. Not only were these add-ons bad trade policy; they also could have damaging foreign-policy implications.

And support came almost exclusively from Republicans. Only 15 of 202 House Democrats voted for CAFTA, or only 7.4 percent. In contrast, 65.2 percent of House Democrats voted for the 1994 Uruguay Round agreement.

The breakdown of bipartisanship on trade policy since 1995 has many causes. One factor is diminished civility in the Congress and politics more broadly. A second is the reaction to the suddenly expanded reach of the World Trade Organization, or GATT as it was known until the Uruguay Round agreement.

Now, however, it is time to a rebuilt bipartisan coalition to support trade policy. The WTO is here to stay, and civil society needs to re-engage rather than throw stones from the outside.

The administration and the Republican Congress need to reach across the aisle and listen to other views. U.S. trade policies especially need to better meet the needs of environmental and labor groups to gain support from Democrats who would like to support open trade.

Most mainstream environmental groups supported U.S. trade policy through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In 1993, World Wildlife Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, the National Audubon Society and Conservation International all backed NAFTA. Now these groups are quiet, and environmentalists mostly opposed CAFTA.

One of the environmental community's major objections to current trade policy is the provision, both in NAFTA and CAFTA, allowing foreign investors to sue in U.S. courts for compensation that can chill environmental regulations. While no regulations have been overturned, there have been too many close calls to suit the environmental community. …

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