Free-Trade Debate Preludes King's Visit
Dougherty, Carter, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Jordan's King Abdullah will arrive in Washington tomorrow for a meeting with President Bush to find that his country is entangled in the domestic American politics of globalization.
Normally, major foreign policy priorities like the Middle East peace process and Iraq dominate the agenda when the Jordanian king visits the United States.
This time, the king will meet with Mr. Bush, U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick and dozens of members of Congress to deliver an urgent plea: Approve a free-trade agreement between the United States and Jordan.
"It has economic, political and security aspects," said the visibly frustrated Jordanian ambassador, Marwan Muasher. "It is not a pure trade agreement."
Hit hard by U.N. sanctions against Iraq, once a major trading partner, the young king has staked his reputation on being able to boost commerce with the United States, observers say.
By contrast, the commercial value of the pact to the United States is minimal, covering $276 million in yearly two-way trade - "less than a drop in the bucket" of the American economy, Mr. Muasher said. But it also contains some partisan political dynamite.
The Clinton administration, which negotiated the pact last year, shoehorned rules on labor and environmental standards - long opposed by Republicans - into the agreement at the behest of unions and environmental groups. Jordan, eager to strike a deal, readily agreed.
The provisions call for unspecified penalties if either country fails to enforce its labor or environmental standards, rules negotiators conceded at the time were vague. Most observers believe the Clinton administration was trying to foist a precedent-setting agreement on Republicans by including the rules in a pact with a key U.S. ally.
Michael Smith, a former top trade official in the Reagan administration, described the provisions as "largely fluff, open to widely differing interpretations. …