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Date: Sat, 25 Oct 97 14:12:47 CDT
From: Alan Benjamin <theorganizer@igc.org>
Subject: Clinton Intensifies Push for Trade Powers
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Article: 20612

Clinton Team Intensifies Push for Trade Powers

By Gene Gibbons, Reuters, 08:07 p.m Oct 23, 1997 Eastern

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned Thursday that a "chain reaction of protectionism" could result if Congress denied President Clinton fast track power to negotiate new trade pacts.

Albright issued the warning, the strongest yet from an administration struggling to muster the votes it needs to win the controversial trade authority, as Clinton enlisted U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson in the uphill policy fight.

White House spokesman Mike McCurry said Richardson was drafted to help because of his role in gaining passage in 1993 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Clinton himself also took a direct hand late on Thursday by lobbying a bipartisan group of about 15 senators, most of them undecided, for an hour at the White House.

Fast track power would enable Clinton to conclude trade pacts that can be rejected by Congress but not revised. He wants the special power to bring Chile into the NAFTA and to negotiate market-opening accords with Asia and Latin America.

Speaking at a Chamber of Commerce rally at which Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin also appeared, Albright cast the issue as a matter affecting U.S. economic and security interests.

"Rejection of fast track could set in motion a chain reaction of protectionism that would endanger our economic future and halt the spread of political freedom," she said.

Echoing Albright's warning, Rubin said he found it "deeply troubling that there is so much instinct to retreat from the global economy" because that fails to recognize that much of the U.S. well-being comes from trade opportunities.

"Without fast track no nation will enter into a serious negotiation with the United States, because of concern that the agreement will be revamped during the Congressional process, and our economic interests will suffer," he said.

A senior Treasury Department official, speaking to reporters later on condition of anonymity, said studies show that American producers and workers face an effective tax of up to $30 billion annually because of tariff and other barriers imposed by nations in Latin America and Asia.

He said market-opening agreements could contribute to an increase of at least $200 billion in U.S. merchandise exports, relative to what they otherwise would be, by the year 2010.

The official added that each additional percentage point increse in the rate of growth of U.S. merchandise trade could generate between $800 and $1,600 in income for a typical family of four in 2010.

Many of Clinton's fellow Democrats have deserted him in the fast track fight because of concerns that new trade pacts would encourage U.S. to companies move abroad to take advantage of cheap labor and lax environmental standards.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, a Texas Republican, told the president in a letter Wednesday that fast track legislation could be defeated in the House if Clinton failed to line up more support from the Democrats.

McCurry said that Richardson, a former congressman renowned for his readiness to plunge into risky high-stakes diplomatic endeavors, would try to help in that effort.

"We have an uphill fight in rounding up Democrats in the House but we've been making a persuasive argument and Ambassador Richardson's role in the fight for NAFTA ratification was an important and impressive one," hesaid.

Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and the secretaries of state, labor and agriculture met a bipartisan mix of senators at the White House on Thursday evening to seek their support.

"The majority was undecided but the discussion was more favorable than negative," Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat who is undecided, told reporters after the meeting.

Copyright 1997 Reuters Limited.