- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2001

America has begun to see most issues in pre- and post-Sept. 11 terms. So it is important to view President Bush's request for fast track negotiating authority in the current context.
On Friday, the Trade Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee decided to put off till this week the vote on fast track negotiating authority for Mr. Bush, which limits congressional authority to either approve or reject trade agreements. Many countries whose leaders have de facto fast-track authority are reluctant to negotiate with a U.S. president who lacks this power, fearing that Congress will take apart a deal that took months or years to strike. The trade bill has fallen prey to unfortunate partisan squabbling, which is the last thing the world trading system needs now.
Given attempts by the White House to reach out to the rest of the world in efforts to build a global coalition to combat terrorism, fast-track authority for the president is crucial. Mr. Bush will want to reward those countries that actively aid the international war on terrorism, and a closer trade tie is the best gift the United States can offer, which, in turn, benefits U.S. consumers and exporting companies. For this reason, the trade pact that Mr. Bush and Jordanian King Abdullah II signed in Washington last Friday is a welcome development.
"Obviously, I wish our meeting was under better circumstances, but obviously, we're here to give our full, unequivocal support to you and to the people of America," Mr. Abdullah told Mr. Bush on Friday. "And we will stand by you in these very difficult times. And we are proud of our friendship."
But lawmakers and other supporters of fast track should be careful how they promote the trade promoting authority. While the United States, and indeed the world, appear to be on the precipice of economic recession, free trade agreements shouldn't be looked to as a short-term stimulus. America's economic vitality depends on access to foreign markets, and free trade pacts are a cornerstone of the country's economic development. However, the benefits of free trade agreements are gradual and longer term. Free trade pacts don't have the same effect as a loose monetary or expansionary fiscal policy and can even present challenges for various industries at the outset. Future support for fast track could be undermined, therefore, if what has been promised is not delivered.
Still, the need for fast track is urgent. In the wake of the devastation of Sept. 11's attacks, Mr. Bush has a pressing need to bring new countries into the free trade fold. Furthermore, freer trade with other countries will provide the U.S. economy with its traditional advantages. The World Trade Meeting in Qatar is right around the corner, and the United States should be a world leader at the conference.

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