WWD.com/business-news/government-trade/republicans-push-free-trade-in-party-platform-1734320/

ST. PAUL — Republicans put a strong emphasis on continuing an aggressive free trade policy in their 2008 party platform adopted Monday, including forging new pacts and protecting intellectual property rights.

This story first appeared in the September 3, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Delegates at the Xcel Energy Center heard the outline of the platform at a GOP national convention that has been disrupted by Hurricane Gustav slamming the Gulf Coast.

“Before you is the most principled and forward-looking platform in at least a generation,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.), co-chairman of the platform committee. “It provides a path to security abroad, energy independence at home, robust job creation and safer neighborhoods.”

There were few surprises for industry groups in the business-friendly, labor-skeptical platform that constitutes a set of principles for a Republican president. Most expected to see the free trade credentials of the presumptive nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, reflected in the platform.

It draws a contrast with the Democrats’ platform adopted last week in Denver that indicates Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the party’s presidential nominee, might take a tougher stance on some unfair trade practices.

If McCain, who is to accept his party’s nomination Thursday night, wins in November and adheres to the platform, his administration would continue negotiating new trade deals without the conditions of the stricter labor and environmental provisions pushed by Democrats.

“Greater international trade, aggressively advanced on a truly level playing field, will mean more American jobs, higher wages and a better standard of living,” according to the platform. “We encourage multilateral, regional and bilateral agreements to reduce trade barriers that limit market access for U.S. products, commodities and services.”

The platform does not directly address unfair trade practices by China, a priority for domestic textile producers, but it pledges stronger enforcement of counterfeiting and suggests a McCain administration would “aggressively oppose direct and indirect subsidies by which some governments tilt the world playing field against American producers.”

Apparel firms that imported $95.6 billion in goods in the last year, and U.S. textile producers that have lost hundreds of thousands of jobs over the years, have a lot at stake in the policies of the next president. While President Bush is an ardent free trader, he has taken action to curtail Chinese imports and urged the country to reform its trade and currency policies.

“Most of the Republican platform was positive from the perspective of the National Council of Textile Organizations,” said Mike Hubbard, the group’s vice president.

NCTO agrees with the platform position that opposes intervention by the World Trade Organization in U.S. farm programs and direct and indirect subsidies from China, as well as the need to address currency valuation issues. Pending trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea have generated mixed responses from NCTO’s members and the Colombia agreement has the strongest support, Hubbard said.

The GOP platform calls for the “immediate” approval of all pending trade deals, including those with Colombia and South Korea that have stalled this year because of concerns about the deaths of trade union activists in Colombia and barriers to U.S. auto exports in South Korea.

“I expect more of the same with a John McCain administration if he adheres to that platform,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition. “An aggressive policy of opening U.S. markets without an equivalent or reciprocal treatment from major trading partners, a lip service to the concept of fair trade with a blind adherence to more market openings on the U.S. end.”

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two parties’ platforms is in the area of organized labor.

The GOP platform calls for “stopping the assault on the secret ballot election” and indicates that McCain, like Bush, would oppose “card check” legislation that allows workers to vote to join a union through a card-check system instead of only through a closed-ballot election.

The Obama campaign has said it would fight to enact the Employee Free Choice Act legalizing the card-check system, which has stalled in Congress this year because of opposition from Republicans.