Trade, Out of the Slow Lane

Renewed "fast track" trade authority, seven years on the presidential wish list, picked up speed last week as the House of Representatives gave it a narrow one-vote victory, 215 to 214.

Now the Senate should get the measure to Mr. Bush's desk sooner rather than later, so he can negotiate trade deals that Congress can then only vote for or against but not change. Without it, few countries will negotiate with the United States.

The reasons are clear even to opponents of so-called trade-promotion authority. One effective arrow in the US diplomatic quiver is the ability to grant a nation permission to enter the huge US market. During the cold war, that power won many nations over to the anticommunist cause. Now in the long war on terrorism, the president needs to wield that power again.

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And he needs it without Congress adding demands that most countries won't accept from the get-go, such as meeting US standards on labor rights.

Free trade helps create the prosperity that can fuel a nation's natural progress toward higher standards in working conditions and the environment. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have understood that, and so should Congress.

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