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Free Trade: The Clinton Sidestep BY DON HAZEN Washington, D.C. BILL CLINTON WAS NEARING the end of his press conference following his impressive two-day economic summit in Little Rock on December 14 and 15. The President-elect was upbeat about the “remarkable consensus” achieved by the diverse collection of economists, business people, advocates and academics on key points regarding public investment and the deficit. Clearly in his element during the meeting and the press conference, Clinton showed both a complex grasp of economic issues and a comprehensive memory of the two days of discussion. He answered reporters’ questions fully, and responded to their follow-up questions in detail. It was only near the end of the conference, when Clinton was asked a two-part question by a Latina journalist, that he stumbled. He ignored the second half of the question and moved quickly to the next questioner the only time he skirted an issue during the entire press conference. The question: Would Clinton renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement Clinton’s side-stepping of the reporter’s query could simply mean that he is fallible. Or it could mean that Clinton understands that the Bushnegotiated trade agreements the General NAFTA loom ahead like storm clouds, disturbances fraught with political dangers. Perhaps, consciously or unconsciously, Clinton is just not ready to deal with them. Clinton may have wanted to ignore the trade agreements for now, but that’s just not in the cards. Bush signed NAFTA on December 17. Arid after six long years of negotiations, Bush is rushing to complete the GATT negotiations despite open disagreement among member countries; similarly ignored are the pointed protests by French and German farmers and a broad-based and expanding coalition of groups in the United States. In understanding the complex agreements, it helps to see NAFTA as a mini GATT affecting only Canada, Mexico and the United States; agreements negotiated by GATT, however, will override NAFTA agreements. GATT stands for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which establishes the code of conduct for international trade among most of the world’s Don Hazen is executive director of the Institute for Alternative Journalism, based in Washington, D.C., and writes a column on the news media. nations. The current round is called the Uruguay round, since it started in 1986 in the Uruguayan resort town of Punta del Este. According to economist Walter Russell Mead, writing in Harpers, “the GATT Treaty as currently drafted will essentially establish a new international organization potentially more powerful than the United Nations: a kind of free trade World Government.” Mead adds: “GATT will likely have a greater effect on wages and employment in this country that anything the Federal Reserve will do to alter interest rates. And hundreds of federal and state laws affecting worker and food safety could be overturned, not by American Courts or legislators but by GATT tribunals, which are likely to have the power to make binding decisions to resolve trade disputes among member nations.” In the words of Ralph Nader, the Bush Administration’s trade agenda will “degrade existing health and safety standards to the lowest common denominator drive our standards down to the levels of the less fortunate countries.” In the organizing that’s going on, pressure is being applied simultaneously to convince Bush not to conclude the GATT agreement prematurely, and convince Clinton and Congress not to vote in favor of it, if it is finished. At the same time, NAFTA has assumed more prominence since Bush signed it on December 17. Theoretically, Bush could deliver the NAFTA agreement to Congress before he leaves office, giving them 60 days to vote thumbs up or down without changes. However, with the transition to a new president and possible intervention by Clinton, it could be late spring or early summer before the vote actually occurs, says Public Citizen’s Atlanta Mcllwraith. If passed as drafted by Bush, NAFTA would ensure that national Mexican, Canadian and U.S. laws could be challenged by all three governments as “barriers” to free trade-a privilege that many feel will allow the world’s largest corporations to circumvent democracy and kill those national and local laws that protect people and the planet. Where Does Clinton Stand? Clinton and his people deserve some credit. Clinton’s economic summit was a dramatic shift from what we have seen during the ReaganBush era. It represents a sea change in the process of grappling with economic issues. No longer does corporate America shape, carte blanche, the government’s economic agenda. No longer are unions and consumer advocates isolated on the margins. Present at the summit were union leaders like Ron Carey, the new head of the Teamsters, and New York Hospital Worker’s union chief Dennis Rivera, who had just come from a meeting \(also attended by Other summit participants included Jeff Faux, from the Economic Policy Institute; Joan Claybrook, from Public Citizen \(on the inside while. Nader was making noises on the outwomen’s group 9 to 5; and Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund. This would suggest that for now, the Clinton/Gore tent is relatively wide. But will all this economic collaboration turn out to be window dressing when the tough decisions about deficit reduction and economic stimuli finally get made? And what about the trade agreementS which were so handily glossed over during the economic summit? Clinton tried to straddle the NAFTA issue during the campaign by supporting the agreement in principle despite ‘the opposition of his congressional ally Richard Gephardt and many unions, to NAFTA as it is currently written. But the timing of the trade situation ensures that Clinton will soon have to take a stand on the issue, and probably endure some big political headaches, no matter which side he comes down on. Clinton has pledged to initiate “parallel” agreements to NAFTA around labor and environmental issues. However, he has been vague so far, and many feel that even this would not mitigate the, full impact of NAFTA. A Firestorm of Protest Bush signed NAFTA with the hopes of projecting the overwhelming message through the media that it’s a finished deal: signed and done. But a coalition of U.S. citizen organizations, unions, and other groups are putting pressure on Clinton to intervene. One group that has been diligently examining Clinton’s position on free trade is the Alliance for Responsible Trade, an coalition of environmental, labor, farm, consumer, and religious organizations. The group has compiled a comprehensive analysis pointing out how NAFTA, as negotiated by Bush, violates in principle much of what was written in the blueprint for the Clinton/Gore campaign, “Putting People First.” For example, Clinton and Gore write that 10 JANUARY 15, 1993