Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Clinton Must Stump for NAFTA

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Clinton Must Stump for NAFTA

Article excerpt

THERE is joy in Mudville. Casey's at the bat. President Clinton has finally taken the field for the North American Free Trade Agreement, promising to put his full weight behind efforts to gain congressional approval of the pact. And he can win - if he stays forcefully engaged over the coming months. But even if Congress ultimately rejects NAFTA, the United States and Mr. Clinton himself will be well served by a vigorous campaign for the agreement.

Throughout his race for the presidency, Clinton consistently supported NAFTA and its goal of eliminating trade barriers between the US, Mexico, and Canada. Yet, since Inauguration Day, his voice has scarcely been heard. NAFTA's critics have had the field largely to themselves. Facts notwithstanding, they have succeeded in portraying NAFTA as a massive threat to American jobs and wages, and in cowing many in Congress, where today a majority would vote against the pact. NAFTA's supporters have been on the defensive, lacking enthusiasm and direction.

Last week, however, Clinton came out swinging. His powerful endorsement of NAFTA left no doubt about his personal commitment. The president demonstrated an imposing grasp of what troubles the American people about NAFTA, and squarely addressed their concerns. Clinton must now sustain an energetic effort to recruit the necessary votes on Capitol Hill. This is one come-from-behind battle that Clinton should wage fiercely. A victory here would enhance his leadership at home and abroad; improve US economic prospects; set a precedent for sensible US trade policies; and pave the way for more productive political and economic relations with Mexico and other Latin American and Caribbean countries.

But, win or lose, NAFTA is worth fighting for - contrary to conventional wisdom that would advise the president to avoid risking political capital in a potentially losing battle.

THE NAFTA debate is an opportunity for Clinton to educate the American voter and Congress about issues crucial to the nation's future: international economic realities, the dangers of isolationism and protectionism, the importance of Latin America to US interests, and the role of the US in today's world. …

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