OPPONENTS SET TO BATTLE FAST TRACK
Byline: Joyce Barrett
WASHINGTON — As the Clinton administration pursues last-minute negotiations with Congressional Democrats on plans to launch today a campaign to secure negotiating authority for free-trade pacts, opponents of the idea escalated their efforts.
In a Capitol Hill press conference Tuesday, the Citizens Trade Campaign, a coalition of organized labor and community action groups, brought forth a Tennessee apparel worker who said she lost her job at an Oshkosh company plant a year ago because of the North American Free Trade Agreement; a former Customs inspector who said unsafe cargo trucks from Mexico crossed into the U.S. daily; a mother whose child was sickened by tainted Mexican strawberries, and a Montana farmer who said imported beef was unsafe.
This morning, organized labor leaders, Ralph Nader and community action groups plan a rally outside the White House in Lafayette Park against the fast track legislation. This legislation prohibits Congress from amending trade pacts; under fast track, Congress is given only a limited period to either accept or reject the pacts.
Despite these opposition efforts, which include paid advertising by organized labor targeted at a group of House Democrats, a leader of the Citizens Trade Campaign acknowledged that they were fighting an uphill battle.
“If a vote were held today, the administration would win,” said Rep. William Pascrell (D., N.J.), who called NAFTA a “failure.”
The administration maintains that without fast track, which expired three years ago, and which every president has had since Nixon, countries won’t negotiate with the U.S.
First in line for negotiation is an expansion of NAFTA to Chile. The administration is also eyeing trade pacts with the remaining countries in Latin America, as well as Pacific Rim nations.
Today, in an East Room ceremony, Clinton is expected to disclose the broad outlines of his fast-track request. He started making his case for fast-track Tuesday in a speech on education at American University.
“The next thing we have to do is continue our efforts to expand trade to the rest of the world,” he said. “We cannot maintain our wealth unless we sell what we have to the rest of the world. We do not need to be afraid to trade with the rest of the world.”
Details of Clinton’s request aren’t expected until later this week or early next week, since the White House is still meeting with Congressional Democrats on their concerns. Meetings were held late Tuesday between Senate Democrats and U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, Commerce Secretary William Daley and Jay Berman, fast-track coordinator for the White House. More meetings are set for today.
“We’re in the middle of consulting with members,” Daley told reporters before going into the afternoon meeting. “This is absolutely necessary.”
He added that the administration realized it was under time constraints because Congress plans to adjourn in early November. “We all understand the need to get moving. We’re trying to make sure that when the bill is put forward, we have the support to be successful,” he said.
Business leaders, including retailers’ representatives, told Barshefsky in a meeting Tuesday that they need the details of fast track so they can start lobbying on Capitol Hill for its passage. Robert Hall, vice president, international trade counsel for the National Retail Federation, said fast track is important to retailers because it could open markets for store openings as well as sourcing opportunities.
Sen. Tom Daschle (D., S.D.), and Rep. Richard Gephardt (D., Mo.) have said that labor and environmental protections should be specified as part of any trade negotiations. Also, they have voiced concerns that the safety of the U.S. food supply has been compromised by imports, which aren’t subject to the same environmental and pesticide laws that govern U.S. agriculture. Daschle told reporters Tuesday that meetings between Congressional Democrats and the administration could win some votes for the Clinton administration in its quest for the crucial negotiating authority.
“If they adequately address our concerns, there will be Democratic votes,” he said.