Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gore, Perot Trade Barks and Sound Bites Effect of `Risky' Debate on NAFTA Still Unclear

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gore, Perot Trade Barks and Sound Bites Effect of `Risky' Debate on NAFTA Still Unclear

Article excerpt

With glares, stares, statistics, cliches, charts and wildly different world views, Vice President Al Gore and Texas billionaire Ross Perot raked over the North American Free Trade Agreement with CNN's Larry King on Tuesday night.

The 90-minute show, billed as a "debate," was a high-risk strategy for President Bill Clinton's administration, which concedes that it is behind in the crucial count of House votes to pass the trade pact to eliminate tariffs among the United States, Mexico and Canada. The administration's hope was that Gore, the well-schooled debater, could turn the NAFTA issue around on Perot's articulate sound bites.

Whether it worked may not show up until the House vote Nov. 17, but neither Gore nor Perot added information as each trotted out well-known arguments. Gore maintained that the trade agreement would open Mexico's market, mean more jobs for Americans and protect U.S. relations with an important neighbor. Perot argued that poor Mexicans cannot buy American goods, that the agreement should be renegotiated and that the pact is a "bad deal" for both nations.

Perot was snappy and snappish as he often accused Gore of interrupting him. When Gore pressed him on a free trade zone in Texas secured by the Perot family business, suggesting that Perot benefits whether NAFTA wins or loses, Perot bristled, "Would you even know the truth if you saw it?"

Mocking Perot's penchant for charts and props, Gore brought out a framed photograph of the creators of the Smoot-Hawley tariffs, blamed by many for the Great Depression, and gave it to Perot, gibing that Perot's aversion to NAFTA was akin to the infamous protectionist legislation. Perot let the photo clatter to the desktop, face down.

Trying to match Perot's gift for simple phrases, Gore described trade relations now, with Mexico's higher tariffs on American goods, as a "one-way street." He argued: "NAFTA changes that. It makes it even-steven."

For his part, Perot offered trademark one-liners and vivid portraits of his view of the horrors of more trade and lost American jobs from NAFTA. Rejecting support for the trade pact from corporate, economic and government luminaries - from presidents to retired Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell - Perot declared NAFTA "dead" in the House and unsalable to the American public. "This dog just didn't hunt," he said.

Holding up a photo of a Mexican shantytown around what he described as an American factory, Perot said, "Livestock in this country and animals have a beter life than good, decent, hard-working Mexicans working for major U.S. companies."

Working to put Perot on the defensive, Gore questioned the businessman closely about the finances for Perot's anti-NAFTA campaign, the specifics of how Perot would change the trade pact, and the advantages of the free trade zone sought by the Perot family business. …

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