- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2001

The fast-track-trade-negotiating vote which the House is expected to take up next week is certain to spur an ideological brawl. As arcane as fast track may sound, its implications are significant for Americans, and the debate surrounding the vote is sure to get testy.
Fast-track authority will bolster President Bush's ability to negotiate trade agreements with other countries by limiting Congress' role to either approve or reject them. Changes, however, will be out of the question. Because many legislatures around the world don't have the jurisdiction to change already agreed upon pacts, other countries are often reluctant to negotiate with the United States, since there's no telling what Congress may change. Fast-track authority levels that playing field for the U.S. president.
The White House has launched a campaign to help Mr. Bush win fast track. The outcome of the vote will have an impact on America's leadership role in the world, access for American consumers to competitively priced products and access for U.S. exporters to foreign markets. However, public opinion on free trade has deteriorated markedly in the past few years, and the White House opted to repackage fast track under a new label: trade promotion authority.
At the heart of the controversy over free trade is the impact it has on jobs and the environment. However, this is no zero-sum game. Free trade benefits everyone. In driving prices lower, the global marketplace has created wealth for Americans. It has also sparked innovation, as companies strive to bolster productivity. Free trade allows different countries to concentrate on producing that which they have comparative advantages in, while allowing them to import what they would be inefficient at producing.
But freer markets also increase the global supply of labor, and this can cause pressure on wages. That dynamic is particularly significant in regards to unskilled labor, since the pool of this type of work is so readily available. For workers with a skill, trade or profession, free trade is a net positive. Unskilled laborers, therefore, will encounter an increasingly competitive market, which is why a trained, educated workforce is so crucial now and will become only more critical.
For this reason, substantive education reform is important. And the White House should come up with creative ways to foster the training of workers by the private sector. The president should also consider promoting the idea that consumers can help generate ethical corporate practices by favoring corporations that abide by global labor and environmental standards. These companies could come under a label that would be recognized by consumers around the world. This approach would be far less intrusive than dictating to developing countries what their laws should be.
Of course, there are many other potential approaches for addressing these concerns. But it is crucial that U.S. industry remains agile and competitive, and that consumers don't become the captive audience of protected corporations. For this reason, Congress should give the president fast-track negotiating authority - for America's prosperity and that of our global neighbors.

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