- The Washington Times - Friday, October 15, 2004

President Bush has presided over a calibrated and ambitious trade policy that has been geared towards opening new markets around the world for U.S. producers while defending U.S. industry from unfair trade practices abroad. Mr. Bush’s trade representative, Robert Zoellick, has proven to be an agile negotiator in and main driver of global trade talks.

By contrast, John Kerry has articulated a trade agenda which endangers the ongoing round of trade negotiations. His call for reevaluating existing trade deals could alienate U.S. allies and undermine U.S. foreign policy. In fact, Mr. Kerry’s campaign platform on trade also conflicts with his own voting record, which has been unmistakably pro-free trade.

Under Mr. Bush, the United States has completed free-trade agreements with 12 countries and is negotiating deals with 10 others. Altogether those deals comprise the third-largest U.S. export market, demonstrating the cumulative importance of smaller trade agreements. Those deals cover areas of special importance to U.S. industry, such as intellectual property and the service sector, and include transparency and anti-corruption provisions. The trade agreements include penalties for countries that fail to uphold their own labor and environmental laws.

The Bush administration has also defended U.S. industry from unfair trade practices. In 2002, the administration invoked safeguard tariffs for U.S. steel producers, which it dropped last December. In April, the administration negotiated a resolution with China of key trade issues, including technology standards, agriculture, services and distribution rights. Mr. Bush also filed the first World Trade Organization suit against China, successfully pressuring Beijing to discontinue a discriminatory tax policy that threatened $2 billion in U.S. semiconductor sales.

In addition, Mr. Zoellick has demonstrated considerable leadership in his handling of global trade negotiations. In a January letter, he pointed the way forward for talks and gave them new impetus after the disastrous collapse of negotiations in Cancun, Mexico thirteen months ago. In the letter, Mr. Zoellick presciently said that progress in the trade round couldn’t be made unless member countries were willing to agree on a definitive date for eliminating agricultural export subsidies. He also committed Washington to eliminating the subsidy component of agricultural export credit guarantee programs. These steps, which were later taken, helped break the logjam in talks. There is much at stake in those discussions, since they will open markets in areas where U.S. industry is particularly strong, such as services — a sector in which U.S. companies have a $50 billion global surplus.

By contrast, Mr. Kerry is putting those talks in jeopardy by calling on the United States to reject an agreement from the last round of global talks to relax quotas on textile trade next year, even though he voted in favor of the terms of that trade round in 1994. Mr. Kerry has called for a 120-day review of NAFTA and other existing trade agreements, even though he voted for NAFTA and every major trade expansion legislation of the past two decades. Mr. Kerry’s so-called review would run out the clock on Trade Promotional Authority. That authority, which former President Bill Clinton was unable to obtain from Congress, facilitated the Bush administration’s trade negotiations, by assuring trade partners that Congress could either approve or reject an already negotiated trade deal, but could not change it.

Given Mr. Kerry’s overall ambivalence regarding the benefits of global trade, it is difficult to imagine how he could win that authority from Congress. But without it, Mr. Kerry would be severely handicapped in his ability to negotiate free-trade deals.

Mr. Kerry’s positions are troubling to some of the country’s leading economists. For that reason, 368 of them, including six Nobel laureates, signed statement expressing concern with his trade and economic platform. “John Kerry has expressed a general reluctance to reduce trade barriers. He has promised, if elected, to ‘review existing trade agreements.’ He vows not to ‘sign any new trade agreements until the review is complete and its recommendations [are] put in place.’ That’s a prescription for political gridlock. Given the widespread benefits of unfettered trade, Kerry’s trade policies would harm U.S. producers and consumers alike,” the statement said.

By backtracking from signed trade deals he had voted in favor of, Mr. Kerry would not inspire global trust. He threatens not only the breakthroughs on global trade that the United States is on the cusp of benefiting from, but also the achievements that have already been made.

The continuing prosperity that free trade brings both to America and the world will best be advanced by the policies of Mr. Bush.

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