Senate's Last Turn at Bat to Settle the Fate of GATT

Article excerpt

WHEN the United States Senate puts the hotly debated world trade accord to vote today, President Clinton could gain a political boost at home and enhanced credibility overseas by delivering on an internationally popular treaty.

Mr. Clinton, who has personally pleaded with senators to support the bill, has hardly had time to enjoy his boost from Tuesday's vote in the House of Representatives, which approved the 124-nation General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) by an overwhelming majority. Instead, the president has energetically manned his own phones since the House vote, trying to win the Senate votes needed to pass the trade legislation. Opponents: unlikely allies

The White House and other GATT proponents have faced unflinching opposition from an odd assortment of unlikely allies, including conservative Patrick Buchanan, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, labor leaders, and environmentalists.

Workers' rights and ecology advocates have lobbied against the GATT because of a perceived threat to American jobs from an anticipated flood of cheap imports produced by overseas labor operating free of environmental and other regulations. But the most controversial aspect of the GATT has to do with GATT's arbitration of disputes.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) - GATT's successor organization, which is scheduled to start up by Jan. 1 - will serve as the negotiating forum to free up trade in everything from wheat production to telecommunications services. It has been designed to make sure countries adhere to the new rules they've agreed to, a task that is bound to be tough in politically prickly areas such as textiles and farm goods.

And, under the new system, the WTO is vested with powers some US lawmakers find objectionable: If it deems that one of the WTO's 124 member countries is violating the international agreement, the WTO can order that country to terminate that practice. …

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