- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2001

As America's incoming trade representative, Robert Zoellick will serve simultaneously as congressional liaison, engine for global stability, political lightning rod and, naturally, broker of trade deals around the world. After eight years of the Clinton administration's apprehension in pursuing trade deals, many Americans hold high hopes for Mr. Zoellick and the Bush administration in general.

Today, trade is regarded as more than an economic exchange. Countries that trade together are less likely to go to war with each other. So trade is widely regarded as an antidote to global aggression, as well as a catalyst for growth that helps perpetuate political and social stability.

Mr. Zoellick will have his work cut out for him. Although the White House and Congress granted China Permanent Normal Trade Relations last year, China is still in the process of entering the World Trade Organization (WTO). Beijing is reportedly trying to redefine an agreement that was nearly finalized late last year, not a good sign. In the meantime, Mr. Zoellick should push the WTO to bring Taiwan into the trade organization. Not only would the WTO do right by Taiwan, but China would undoubtedly find new impetus to finalize its deal with the WTO.

Mr. Zoellick will also have to convince Congress to grant President-elect Bush fast-track negotiating authority, which would allow lawmakers to either approve or reject a trade agreement, but not amend an already negotiated deal. Since some of the Democratic Party's main contributors, such as unions and environmental groups, are opposed to fast-track, Mr. Clinton desisted from launching an aggressive campaign to win the negotiating authority. Mr. Zoellick will have to counter strong opposition from these groups.

The Bush administration is expected to be able to win the support of some conservative Democrats in Congress for trade legislation. But the president will also have to draft creative solutions that address labor and environmental concerns. He has already proposed some excellent ideas. At a speech at Florida International University last year, Mr. Bush said he favors offering Latin American countries debt reduction in exchange for their increasing rain forest protection. The president-elect said he would ask Congress for $100 million for this initiative.

Mr. Bush also said he would support helping poor countries through noncollateral microloans. Mr. Bush said he would budget another $100 million for these loans and ask the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank to add to that amount. The president-elect should also use the bully pulpit to recommend that corporations that adhere to international labor and environmental standards and establish a label that could be recognized by consumers around the world.

Indeed, Mr. Zoellick and the incoming president have some exciting work to do. There are still many obstacles to the free movement of goods and services.

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