Foxes given seven years to negotiate henhouse pact

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted May 1998

So, barely having hung up his souvenir African tribal masks, the president sallied forth last month on a long-planned hand-shaking jaunt to South America, billed as the next group of nations which this administration plans to wrap under the big umbrella of NAFTA-style free trade. And such a triumph was the little piece of globe-hopping that it concluded with a new agreement ... to crack down on drugs?

What gives?

Last fall, the White House warned Congress that Mr. Clinton's South American plans would be undercut if he was sent to Santiago without "fast-track" negotiating authority. And -- led by the president's own Democrats -- Congress proceeded to do just that, denying Mr. Clinton blanket authority, in advance, to negotiate a South American "NAFTA" on which the Senate would have to vote up or down without amendment.

Now, free trade is good, and prohibitive tariff barriers are bad. Not only did the Smoot-Hawley tariffs exacerbate the world-wide Depression of the 1930s, not only did the British demonstrate from 1850 to 1900 that unilateral free trade can bring national prosperity, but the very existence of the United States is a living testament to the benefits of free trade on a continent-wide scale. (Imagine how much poorer our lives would be, if your state charged its citizens huge tariffs on clothing imported from Carolina, or vegetables from California, to "protect" inefficient local suppliers.)

So why are members of the president's own party dragging their feet?

"Democrats say they want trade agreements only if they mandate protections for workers and the environment," the Post explains. "South American officials say labor and environmental standards don't belong in trade pacts and would be used as a cover for U.S. protectionism. Some compromise will have to be found." An agreement quietly reached in Santiago, to include labor and environmental groups in the negotiating process for the first time, "may help point the way."

Wrong.

As Paul Gigot pointed out in his weekly column in the Wall Street Journal of April 17, it is the president's own word (and good intentions) that are now suspect when it comes to free trade. The North American Free Trade Agreement called for liberalizing trucking across the U.S.-Mexican border, so that Mexican trucks (having met U.S. safety standards) could roll right across that artificial boundary and deliver their goods direct to Des Moines or Louisville.

But at the last minute -- even after Customs authorities had transferred inspectors to deal with the anticipated rush -- Mr. Clinton quietly and personally nixed that part of the compact, apparently returning a campaign favor to the Teamsters Union.

"Including labor and environmental groups" in South American trade negotiations is a disastrous step. These people neither buy, nor do they sell. Widely infected with Marxist thinking, the leaders of such groups tend to regard profit, prosperity, and the freedom of capitalists to invest where they choose, all with equally deep suspicion.

The leaders of these groups have minimal incentive to help consumers get the best products at the lowest possible prices. They have every institutional incentive to promote crippling protectionism.

NAFTA is hardly the apotheosis of free trade -- a treaty running to thousands of pages is hardly needed to authorize the president to dynamite the Customs posts and tell our neighbors, "OK: bring in whatever you have."

NAFTA is already a sizeable compromise of true free-trade principles. To allow an additional seven years of "compromise" at the hands of labor and the green extreme (an Americas-wide free-trade agreement is now expected "by 2005") is like promising to return a child's kitten after seven years at the attack-dog training school, where its nickname will be "Lunch."

The implication of the "fast-track" crowd is that -- unless the Congress agrees in advance to OK whatever deal Mr. Clinton cuts, without amendment -- the Congress will ruin the treaty.

In fact, isn't it possible that what the "fast-trackers" actually fear is that a Republican Congress might amend any free-trade treaty in order to make it more free, stripping away any poisoned provisions attached by the new delegates from the Teamsters, from Earth First, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals?

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Readers may contact him via e-mail at vin@lvrj.com. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.




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