- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

QUEBEC CITY — President Bush yesterday portrayed opponents of free trade as isolationists as the Summit of the Americas ended with barely a peep from protesters who had disrupted the first two days of the gathering.
"We have a choice to make," Mr. Bush said after signing a declaration to finalize a hemispheric free-trade pact by 2005. "We can combine in a common market so we can compete in the long term with the Far East and Europe. Or we can go on our own."
"Going on our own is not the right way," he said. "Combining in a market in our own hemisphere makes sense."
It was the presidents most withering rebuke of anti-globalization protesters during the three-day summit, which was attended by leaders of the Western Hemispheres 34 democracies—all of whom signed the free-trade declaration. After two days of violent demonstrations, the protesters dispersed yesterday without bothering to disrupt the final meetings and closing ceremonies.
"Sure there are going to be some who complain, and thats what happens in a democracy," Mr. Bush said during a multinational press conference. "There are some people in my country that want to shut down free trade."
He added: "But its not going to change my opinion about the benefits of free trade."
Mr. Bush still faces an enormous political challenge at home: how to persuade Congress to approve fast track negotiating authority he needs to make the hemispheric trade deal possible. Fast track, also known as "trade promotion authority," allows the president to submit proposed trade pacts to an up-or-down vote in Congress, which may not amend the agreement.
It expired in 1993, and has never been renewed, a victim of largely partisan wrangling over whether trade agreements should be used to advance labor protections and environmental standards.
"I am confident I will have trade promotion authority by the end of the year, because I think most people in the United States Congress understand that trade is beneficial in our hemisphere," Mr. Bush said yesterday.
"Most presidents have had what they call fast track," he added. "And I intend to get it myself."
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who heads the Finance Committee, said this weekend that he hopes his panel could approve legislation in June or early July, after it considers tax rules, but before it takes up prescription drug and Medicare bills. Full Senate approval on giving Mr. Bush fast track authority could come in the fall, he said.
"We have a wonderful window of opportunity," Mr. Grassley told reporters in Quebec. "I hope to take advantage of that."
Mr. Bush said during the summit that he would give Congress "a set of principles" on how to formulate fast track legislation in the coming weeks.
The onus for keeping momentum behind the bill then falls on U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick, who has been consulting with congressional leaders on possible ways out of the labor and environment spat between Republicans and Democrats.
With the Free Trade Area of the Americas still nearly four years away, the most enduring product of the Quebec summit may be the 34 leaders approval of a "democracy clause" that attempts to shore up the hemispheres shaky democracies. The clause also excludes Cuba, the only communist dictatorship in the hemisphere, from participating in any trade deal.
"The values and practices of democracy are fundamental to the advancement of all our objectives," yesterdays declaration stated. "Consequently, any unconstitutional alteration or interruption of the democratic order in a state of the hemisphere constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to the participation of that states government in the Summit of the Americas process."
Leaders had to navigate a careful line between using the prestige of the summit process to foster adherence to democratic principles without locking themselves into a course of action in the event of, say, a military coup in a Latin American nation.
Yesterday, Mr. Bush said one of the best arguments for passing the hemispheric trade deal is the success of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
"For those who question trade and its benefits, I would urge them to look at the experience that weve had as a result of NAFTA," he said. "Canada has benefited; Mexico has benefited; the United States has benefited."
He added: "Its a positive example for the doubters to look at, for the skeptics to see what wealth can be spread throughout our hemisphere."
Mexican President Vicente Fox agreed.
"I still recall when we started negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement," said the staunch Bush ally. "People would meet in dark rooms, behind doors, and the information on building up NAFTA was not being reported to the public in general."
"And you got the impression that sometimes people were ashamed of what they were doing," Mr. Fox said. "And today were proud, proud of what NAFTA has accomplished. And the results are truly impressive and beyond question."
Mr. Bush invited Mexico and Canada to beef up sales of oil, gas and electricity to the United States, which is in the midst of an energy crisis.
"If Canadian suppliers and Mexican suppliers of energy and electricity are looking for a market, theyve found one in the United States," Mr. Bush said. "Were short of energy. We need more energy in our country."
Mr. Bush made a point of mentioning the Alberta tar sands as a possible source of oil supplies. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien caused a stir earlier this month when he reportedly remarked in a closed-door caucus meeting with his advisers that Mr. Bush was unaware of the size of the tar sands, a comment he later denied making.
Mr. Bush, who said he "learned a lot" during his first major summit, gave a minor dissertation on the tar sands.
"The Canadians have developed vast crude oil resources in what appeared heretofore to be crude oil that could not be recovered from the ground in what they call tar pits, tar sands," the president said. "Therefore, Canada is going to be the largest exporter of crude oil to the United States."
Mr. Chretien, while calling the summit a success, also complained that many of the protesters "wanted to break everything." Merchants were forced to board up windows and police erected a two-mile, concrete and steel fence around the summit site, which protesters had breached several times during the early stages of the three-day summit meeting.
"There were some hundreds of them who had come with the goal of trying to disrupt us," he said. "I guess in other summits there will still be some protesters. They communicate among themselves on the Internet and so on, and they have the right to protest."
"But we will not tolerate breaking the peace of the people," Mr. Chretien added.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide