- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2004

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Democrat John Kerry says President Bush has turned his back on the American worker by allowing other countries to break trade deals negotiated with the United States and that as president he would put in place a “common-sense” effort to strengthen the bargaining and enforcement of such agreements.

“When I am president, we will never turn a blind eye to clear trade violations when American jobs are on the line,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said in remarks prepared for delivery yesterday evening at a Teamsters labor conference in Las Vegas.

The senator from Massachusetts was seeking to defuse tensions over trade, which emerged as an issue during the race for the nomination. He was to argue that while there are differences over trade policy, trade deals must be enforced once they are sealed.

Mr. Kerry said the nation’s trade deficit stood at $500 billion largely because participating countries aren’t required to improve labor standards and set environmental standards, making their products cheaper in this country and jeopardizing American jobs. In cases where those requirements exist, Mr. Bush isn’t enforcing them, Mr. Kerry argued.

In response, Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said: “John Kerry has long been an advocate of free-trade agreements. His rhetoric is at odds with his record.”

Trade was a big issue during the fight for the Democratic nomination. Key Democratic constituencies, including labor, argue that pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement force U.S. workers to compete unfairly with cheap labor from overseas, where countries rarely enforce environmental and other standards.

The result, they argue, has been downward pressure on wages in this country, and incentives for companies to export jobs. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, won overwhelming backing from those groups during the campaign, including an enthusiastic endorsement from the Teamsters, for promising to end those trade deals if elected.

After Mr. Gephardt dropped out, the Teamsters moved quickly to endorse Mr. Kerry as he emerged as the front-runner.

Mr. Kerry’s campaign theme this week is broadening opportunity — both economic and social. He heads to Topeka, Kan., today to mark the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision that ended segregation in public schools.

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