- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2008

NAFTA defender

As a political appointee, David Wilkins, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, is freer to speak candidly than professional diplomats who often practice the art of oral obfuscation to protect their careers.

So when he discusses American presidential politics before a Canadian audience, no one in Washington challenges the South Carolina native who twice managed President Bush’s campaigns in a key Southern state.

In a recent speech to a business audience in Waterloo, Ontario, Mr. Wilkins strongly defended the North American Free Trade Agreement against criticism from the Democratic presidential primary candidates. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois have denounced NAFTA and offered vague promises to renegotiate portions of the treaty, which a Democrat-dominated Senate approved in 1993 after President Clinton signed the trade pact during the first year of his first term.

“I’m really concerned — along with a lot of you and many other Canadians and American citizens — when I hear talk about withdrawing from our NAFTA obligations,” Mr. Wilkins told the Ontario Rotary Club.

“NAFTA has put food on the table for North American families since its inception. It has created a massive amount of jobs over the past 14 years. It has strengthened North America’s manufacturing and exporting economy, making us far better able to cope with the rise of big emerging economies.”

The three-way trade among the NAFTA partners — the United States, Canada and Mexico — more than tripled to $930 billion last year from $297 billion in 1993, Mr. Wilkins said.

“In my opinion, reopening NAFTA will only risk turning back the clock, making us less competitive against global forces and less able to defend the jobs and prosperity we have built in North America,” he said.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is a strong supporter of NAFTA and other free-trade agreements.

Mr. Obama’s campaign created confusion in February after Canadian news reports said his top economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, told Canadian diplomats that Mr. Obama’s anti-NAFTA position was just campaign rhetoric.

Mr. Wilkins predicted that neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Obama, as president, would be likely to undercut the trade pact.

“No matter who eventually wins the next election, I am confident that he or she will look at the overwhelming evidence and understand that enhancing trade and productivity with our best friend and ally, Canada, is the answer, and we’ll work it all out,” he said.

Independence day

Zimbabwe’s independence day Friday was “overshadowed by uncertainty and fear,” the U.S. ambassador to the southern African nation said, as he called on President Robert Mugabe to stop the violence against his political opposition and release the results of the March 29 election.

“We have disturbing and confirmed reports of threats, beatings, abductions, burning of homes and even murder from many parts of the country,” Ambassador James D. McGee said in remarks posted on the U.S. Embassy’s Web site (https://harare.usembassy.gov).

Mr. Mugabe, the autocratic president who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, has hounded the opposition and imposed economic policies that crippled the nation with a staggering annual hyperinflation rate of 150,000 percent.

“What should be a proud and joyful day for Zimbabweans is overshadowed by uncertainty and fear,” Mr. McGee said of the independence day. “[More than] three weeks after the elections, the results are still not known, the economic tailspin continues and, for many, hope is fading.”

Many observers think opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the presidential election.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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