- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

The Clinton administration's top trade negotiator yesterday challenged the incoming Bush administration to persuade Republicans to demonstrate a greater openness to compromise with Democrats on trade policy.

U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, in a speech reviewing the Clinton administration record on trade, called on Republicans to accept the principle that labor and environmental issues should be included in trade negotiations.

"The labor and environmental issues are here to stay," Mrs. Barshefsky said. "Any notion that these issues can be dispensed with … is sorely mistaken."

The issue of labor and the environment, subjects dear to the hearts of Democratic union members and green groups, has vexed U.S. trade policy since the early 1990s.

The Clinton administration and congressional Republicans, despite on-and-off efforts, never found a workable formula that would include labor and environmental provisions in trade agreements while continuing to lower trade barriers.

Republicans have preferred to leave these issues out of trade agreements entirely, an option Mrs. Barshefsky dismissed outright.

"Trade will not re-emerge in a bipartisan fashion without the labor and environment issue being answered," she said.

Because many House Republicans have opposed free-trade agreements for the past 50 years, President-elect George W. Bush will have to rely on Democratic votes to advance trade policy. Mr. Bush expressed support for trade liberalization during the presidential campaign, but did not delve into details of trade policy.

During the Clinton administration, the quandary over labor and environmental issues led to the defeat in 1997 of a bill to grant the president "fast-track" authority to negotiate new trade agreements. Such a provision would allow the president to submit trade agreements to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments.

Clinton administration officials have long urged congressional Republicans to be more accommodating on labor and environmental issues.

"Her advice is right on target," Rep. Cal Dooley, a prominent pro-trade California Democrat, said after her speech.

Mr. Dooley also said that "the only way" for a stronger consensus on trade to emerge would be for "those who have a direct stake in trade" business groups to persuade Republicans to compromise.

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