- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2000

Members of Congress sharply criticized the Clinton administration's handling of global trade negotiations that collapsed in December amid violent protests in Seattle. One Democratic senator contended that U.S. trade policy is in "crisis."

U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and Treasury Secretary Lawrence M. Summers faced tough questioning yesterday from lawmakers on two separate congressional committees demanding to know what approach the administration was taking to rescue efforts to begin a new round of trade negotiations. The talks were designed to open markets for American farmers and manufacturers.

An effort by the World Trade Organization to start such talks failed in early December when 135 nations attending the Seattle conference could not agree on a negotiating agenda. The conference was marked by street protests against globalization that turned violent, forcing authorities to declare a state of emergency and call out the National Guard.

One of the stumbling blocks to starting a new negotiating round was the administration's insistence that new discussions include a working group to study the link between trade and labor issues. The Clinton administration also has been pushing for future trade agreements to take environmental standards into account.

Both of those issues are deeply opposed by the more than 100 developing countries who make up the bulk of the WTO's membership. They argue that linking trade agreements with labor and environmental standards represents a threat to the competitive advantages they enjoy over industrial countries.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth Jr., Delaware Republican, told Mr. Summers that while such issues could be addressed, "we feel there are other forums for doing so" other than the WTO. He said the administration's intransigence on this point was causing a harmful delay in starting new trade discussions to open markets for U.S. products.

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York Democrat, told Mr. Summers the administration was trying to have it both ways, arguing that it supported a more open trading system while pursuing efforts to impose trade barriers against countries with deficient labor and environmental rules.

"You can't say we want a more open trade system and we want arrangements that will prevent trade," he said. "American trade policy is in a crisis. It is the only crisis on the horizon that could spoil the economic good times."

Mr. Summers told the Senate committee that the administration was simply trying to get approval for a study group to look at the link between trade and labor issues. However, that issue was muddled during the negotiations when President Clinton said in a newspaper interview that the ultimate goal was to impose sanctions against countries with poor labor standards.

Both Mr. Summers and Mrs. Barshefsky, who appeared separately before the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee, insisted that the administration was continuing to work with other countries to find ways to find compromises that allow for a new round of trade discussions. Mrs. Barshefsky noted the WTO had agreed to start preliminary discussions in the area of agriculture and services while trying to work out ways to begin a broader trade round.

Mrs. Barshefsky insisted that the world trading system would survive the Seattle breakdown, noting that there have been many such negotiating failures in the past with the WTO's predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

But Rep. Bill Thomas, California Republican, challenged that assertion, saying the collapse of the Seattle meetings was "far more disastrous" because of the extensive television coverage of the street protests.

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