- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2003

The White House decision to soon send its trade pacts with Chile and Singapore to Congress in tandem reveals as much about its foreign policy philosophy as its trade agenda. The House and Senate are expected to vote on the agreements before the August recess. The Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee had reviewed the trade legislation and approved by voice votes some tariff and other issues. Passage of the agreements appears certain in the Senate, but House lawmakers have some reservations about some immigration-related agreements in the pact.

The two trade accords were once seen as close relatives, having been negotiated at the same time and along similar lines. But after Chile opposed the Iraq war at the U.N. Security Council, the pact with Chile was delayed. The red-carpet signing of the pact with Singapore took place May 6. In the weeks leading up to the more cursory June 6 signing of the Chile agreement, there was much speculation about whether the White House would sign the deal at all in coming months, and, more generally, how it would broadly deal with countries that opposed the war. Many anticipated Chile’s wait would be much longer. Now, the two pacts are set for simultaneous approval.

This signals that the White House is ready to pursue some of the priorities it sidelined leading up to the war. Given the administration’s apparently imminent dispatch of the Chilean trade pact and its meeting with leaders who opposed the war, such as the Brazilian and South African presidents, President Bush appears to believe that a wide range of foreign policy decisions can now be pursued independently of foreign governments’ positions on the war. In previous months, the White House surely sent whatever diplomatic messages it deemed appropriate.

The administration made a wise decision in moving ahead with its free-trade agenda, which collectively will yield moderate impetus to the lackluster global economy and deepen international ties. The agreements with Chile and Singapore are the largest free-trade deals made since the 1993 NAFTA accord.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed that the administration was seeking to make its foreign and economic policies “mutually supportive.” America’s trade agreements are “encouraging reformers — many in fragile democracies — in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.

Surely, America’s free-trade policies are a vehicle for securing economic and foreign policy objectives that have become more critical in wake of September 11. U.S. leadership is especially welcome in view of the stalled global trade round.

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