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KEY RECOMMENDATIONS: GIVE THE PRESIDENT TRADE PROMOTION AUTHORITY NOW, AND USE THE BENEFITS OF TRADE EXPANSION TO DEAL WITH ENVIRONMENTAL AND OTHER SOCIAL ISSUES
October 22, 2001 – With the current slowdown in the world economy, the expansion of free trade is critically important to economic growth in the United States and abroad – and the United States must move forward on expanding trade now.
That is according to the report released today by a blue-ribbon Task Force led by Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin and Reagan White House Chief of Staff Kenneth M. Duberstein. The Independent Task Force, Building Support for More Open Trade, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, specifically recommends that Congress give Trade Promotion Authority, formerly known as “fast-track,” to the president.
Created to help break America’s political deadlock on trade, and accepting that trade expansion contributes “to economic growth by promoting investment, encouraging competition and technological innovation, and reducing inflation,” the Task Force reached two broad conclusions:
1. Trade expansion, when combined with complementary domestic policies, can help address the problems cited by labor, environmentalists, and others concerned with social issues.
2. The United States must move ahead on Trade Promotion Authority. The Task Force specifically supports a formula for this processthat is built into the new U.S.-Jordan trade agreement, namely that states should not relax or selectively enforce labor or environmental laws to gain trade advantage.
The Independent Task Force, whose members include Carla A. Hills, U.S. Trade Representative in the first Bush administration, and Charlene Barshefsky, U.S. Trade Representative in the Clinton administration, outlines recommendations for building a stronger American political consensus on trade expansion.
Among its other recommendations:
- First, the president should ask Congress for separate votes on individual trade agreements and programs. This “building block” strategy will help build a durable base of confidence in, and political support for, trade expansion.
- Second, the administration should more closely involve Congress throughout the trade negotiating process,which includes developing broader and deeper contacts with congressional trade committees. This move will accommodate the role of the legislative branch in trade policy, as well as the president’s need to deal effectively and efficiently with other governments.
- Third, the administration should recognize that labor and environmental movements play an important role in trade policy. The United States should not ask other countries to bolster their labor and environmental standards as a condition of future trade agreements. Other countries would likely view such preconditions as a new form of U.S. protectionism – exacerbating mistrust of the United States and weakening America’s ability to negotiate any new trade agreements.
- Fourth, Congress and the administration should agree to procedural reforms whereby trade agreements that affect U.S. domestic regulations would be subject to ordinary public notice, comment, and a review process. Internationally, the United States should continue to urge greater transparency in the World Trade Organization.
Failure to reach consensus, the Task Force Report argues, raises the danger of “a broader erosion of support for policies that are fundamental to economic success and rising standards of living in all countries.”
Other members of the Task Force include I.M. Destler, professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs, Andrew Kohut, Director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and Lewis Kaden, of Davis Polk & Wardwell.
Timothy Geithner, a former senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and currently at the IMF, served as project director of the Task Force, with Daniel Lucich, senior adviser at Hampshire Partners, serving as deputy project director.
A copy of the complete task force report is available on the Council on Foreign Relations website at /publication/4121/