Lobbyists Plan GATT Attack Lame-Duck Session of Congress to Decide on World Trade Agreement

Article excerpt

Lobbying for and against GATT is in high gear as the 103rd Congress returns Tuesday for a lame-duck session whose only official order of business is the world trade agreement.

President Bill Clinton is devoting two hours a day to calling members of Congress to urge their support for legislation to implement the 123-nation Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

The Alliance for GATT Now, a coalition of more than 200 companies, is delivering a booklet titled "Countdown to GATT" to every member of Congress outlining reasons to support the agreement.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader, a leading opponent of GATT, has sent letters to the nearly 90 members of Congress who are retiring at the end of the year or who were defeated for re-election demanding that they abstain from voting on GATT if their future employment plans present any "conflict of interest."

The protectionist Americans for America held a rally against the pact Saturday on the Capitol steps. Texas billionaire Ross Perot led a United We Stand rally in Wichita, Kan., last week denouncing the agreement. Both sides are running newspaper and television ads and generating thousands of phone calls to Capitol Hill.

Vice President Al Gore has called the trade pact "a critical vote for U.S. leadership in the world and a critical vote for the health of the U.S. economy."

Supporters of GATT see the agreement as a historic step toward freer and more open markets, creating new opportunities for U.S. goods and services. Consumers should also benefit from dramatically reduced tariffs, which will lower the price of imported products.

Clinton has called GATT "the largest international tax cut in history."

Opposition to GATT has focused primarily on the World Trade Organization that would be created under the agreement to enforce trade rules. Critics charge that the trade organization could force the United States to choose between paying penalties or changing health, safety and environmental laws if a majority of the organization's members believe the laws are impediments to trade.

"The U.S. can be out-voted by any two dictatorships in the world," Nader complained.

Senate In Question

It is expected that there will be enough support to approve GATT in the House. Most of the lobbying has focused on the Senate, where opponents intend to raise a budgetary point of order against the agreement.

Under Senate rules, any legislation that adds to the federal deficit must be approved by 60-vote supermajority. Implementing GATT would cost the U.S. government about $40 billion in lost tariffs over 10 years. …

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