Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Team Pushing Hard for NAFTA

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Team Pushing Hard for NAFTA

Article excerpt

In its last-ditch effort to save the free-trade pact with Mexico and Canada, President Bill Clinton's administration is falling back on what have become its trademark tactics: Campaign-style rhetoric about "change," talk-show appearances, small-group sessions with reporters and some old-fashioned horse-trading for votes.

On Wednesday, the White House lawn will be dotted with jugs of Roundup herbicide and packets of NutraSweet from Monsanto Co. in St. Louis; tires from Akron, Ohio; cakes and breads from Florida; Christmas trees from Wisconsin. And executives whose companies make those products and who expect to benefit from the North American Free Trade agreement will set up shop to talk to reporters about the pact.

But as officials in Clinton's administration put out optimistic predictions about NAFTA on Monday, grumbling among Republicans in Congress hinted that some of them may jump ship and leave the administration without the core Republican support it has counted on to pass the pact.

On Monday, U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor said, in one of the rounds of small-group briefings, that Clinton's administration believes it is making headway with House Democrats who have been undecided on the pact. He declined to say exactly how many Democratic votes the White House pitches have won over, but he said that the tally was now "more than halfway" to the 100 it needs.

"We're within striking distance right now," Kantor said.

The trade agreement would blend the economies of the United States, Mexico and Canada into the world's largest trading bloc. Canada already has approved its portions, but the agreements between the United States and Mexico have prompted fierce opposition, especially among labor groups, which fear that American blue-collar jobs will be lost to Mexico's lower wages.

The opposition got a head start with intense lobbying campaigns, and NAFTA supporters have long conceded that they are trailing in winning votes in Congress. A vote is expected in the House, where NAFTA is in the most trouble, Nov. 17.

On Monday, administration officials defended Clinton against charges that he has not done enough to sell the trade agreement. …

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