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Go global

Bush needs the authority to make trade deals. Congress should renew his fast-track authority.

February 01, 2007

GEORGE W. BUSH has never worked harder to promote free trade. On Wednesday, he made a powerful case on Wall Street for extending his fast-track trade negotiating authority, though even more impressive was his effort the day before to explain to factory workers in East Peoria, Ill., why they should care about such off-the-radar topics as the Doha round of World Trade Organization talks.

Though much of President Bush's State of the Economy speech Wednesday was a rehash of the energy, healthcare and education proposals he made last month in his State of the Union address, he hit all the right notes in his discussion of trade. The Doha round, aimed at lowering global barriers to trade and creating fair competition for farm products, is important, he said, because it could "level the playing field for our goods and services ... but it also is a great opportunity to lift millions of people out of poverty around the world."

Bush rightly asked for an extension of his fast-track authority, which allows him to submit to Congress negotiated trade pacts for a straight up-or-down vote, so he can reach a deal on Doha and on separate bilateral measures with countries such as South Korea and Malaysia. It expires June 30 unless Congress extends it.

The U.S. economy is as strong as it is because of, not in spite of, the world's increased openness. But this is a message the president has not done an effective job of selling in the past, and it's a message that plenty of Democrats in the new Congress do not embrace, given their ties to narrower interests adversely affected by competition. So Bush now has a tough fight ahead of him. In the wake of his speech, six Democratic senators signed a letter, written by Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, saying they wouldn't support extending his fast-track power because he has used it to push through deals without adequate labor or environmental protections. Among the signatories was California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who seems oblivious to the importance of trade to her home state's economy.

Other Democrats do seem nervous about endangering Doha, which if successful would lower prices for U.S. consumers, open markets to U.S. exports and help Third World farmers trade their way out of poverty. Key leaders, such as Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, have signaled a willingness to cut a deal with the president on his trade authority, as long as he'll seek more assistance for U.S. workers and make other concessions. Trade expands the economy and creates more jobs overall but admittedly creates upheaval in concentrated areas and industries. There's plenty of room for compromise here in terms of bolstering assistance programs for workers displaced by global competition.

More voices within the Democratic leadership need to support the president's push to retain his trade promotion authority by rekindling the Clinton administration's belief that globalization is more of an opportunity than a threat.

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