- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2000

The United States has traditionally been a leader in liberalizing trade around the globe. It spearheaded, for example, the Uruguay Round of 1986, which led to a reduction of tariffs worldwide. Thanks to the contributions of the Clinton administration, the United States is losing that distinction and the mantle could now be passed to a most unlikely country.
Japan along with some European countries and Mike Moore, World Trade Organization (WTO) director general is spearheading an effort to give at least 48 developing countries free access to the markets of the developed world. Japan's Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said recently it would completely open its door to most goods from the poorest countries, as long as other countries followed suit. Japan's bold initiative is commendable. It is unfortunate, however, that the United States failed to take the lead on this effort.
Rhetorically, President Clinton has championed globalization's positive effect on emerging economies. Late last month, in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Clinton said, "Trade is especially important, of course, for developing nations." He added, "from the 1970s to the early '90s, developing countries that chose growth through trade grew at least twice as fast as those who chose not to open to the world. The most open countries had growth that was six times as fast."
Wise sentiments indeed. Logic would follow then, that given these statements, Mr. Clinton would be a chief proponent for opening markets to the developing world. Unfortunately, the president has made the world's superpower one of the main forces hindering poor countries' access to rich markets.
Mr. Clinton's double-talk on trade has been so disingenuous that he has even angered lawmakers of his own party. "You can't say we want a more open trade system and we want arrangements that will prevent trade," said Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York Democrat. "American trade policy is in a crisis. It is the only crisis on the horizon that could spoil the economic good times."
Although Mr. Clinton spoke of the virtues of globalization in Davos, he has been unwilling to lobby for the fast-track authority he needs to negotiate trade agreements with other countries. Mr. Clinton also caved to protectionist forces in Seattle late last year by endorsing the use of sanctions to enforce labor and environmental standards worldwide. This would be devastating to poor countries, whose economies aren't mature enough to sustain Western-style labor and environmental conditions. It would, however, please some key supporters of the Democratic Party.
Developing countries have become a casualty of U.S. special interests. Poor countries need access to developed economies to fuel growth. They also need private enterprise and investment, which moves into poor countries precisely because labor costs are lower there. A "one-size fits all" labor and environmental regime would stifle growth in the developing world.
That is not to say that development is a one-step process. Although globalization is the main engine for development, governments must implement a host of policies to facilitate growth. A strong press, free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, a sound banking industry and a literate and educated populace are all vital for sustainable development. Mr. Clinton could lend a hand in these areas, rather than proposing the use of sanctions. He should also immediately pledge support for Japan's plan to help developing nations.
The United States must reclaim its leadership on trade. Taking a back seat to a traditionally protectionist country is surely a pathetic legacy for this administration to leave.

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