AMID the whirlwind of the historic transition to a Republican majority in Congress, we should not lose sight of the significance of the passage of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
The approval of GATT has given the American people their first look at how the new Republican congressional leadership can work with President Clinton in the spirit of bipartisanship when the goal is to cut taxes, get government off the backs of American consumers, or create new private-sector jobs.
The GATT ``Uruguay Round'' should really be called the GATT ``American Round.''
The major initiatives of this agreement are the direct result of US proposals to reduce or eliminate barriers that our main export industries face from unfair trade practices. If implemented, trade rules will protect intellectual property rights, service providers, and agriculture. The United States is the international leader in each of these fields.
For example, in California, the entertainment industry, writers, and software creators will be major beneficiaries of the new trade rule protecting intellectual property.
The Uruguay Round will also now open foreign markets to service companies in fields such as accounting, computer services, tourism, engineering, and construction.
Finally, this trade agreement lets competitive American farmers reap the benefits of open foreign markets, especially in Asia and Europe.
Free trade is a proven job creator. The expected economic benefits from the Uruguay Round are astounding: added growth of $1 trillion over 10 years, and hundreds of thousands of new private-sector American jobs. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a small trade deal compared to the Uruguay Round, has created nearly 100,000 export jobs in just one year.
Some opponents of GATT used the term ``fast-track'' to create the impression that the negotiating and implementing processes were conducted without public knowledge or input. Just the opposite is true. Congress ensured that the GATT agreement was on a slow and deliberative legislative path. Seven years of negotiations were wrapped up a year ago in Geneva with significant congressional consultation. The House Ways and Means Committee kicked off hearings last February. Hearings continued in the House and Senate throughout the year. The implementing legislation was drafted in an open process, and the final legislation was introduced on Sept. 27.
The House and Senate originally planned to vote on GATT the first week of October. Despite the year-long process, however, many groups opposing GATT asked for the vote to be delayed until after the Nov. 8 elections, arguing that additional time was needed to review the final bill. The House and Senate complied, and a bipartisan agreement was hashed out to delay the vote to Nov. 29 and Dec. 1.
The delay was a good idea. The American people and their elected representatives in Congress deserve ample time to review what is clearly an enormous and complicated piece of legislation containing tariff schedules and transition rules.
The delay was especially helpful in providing time to dispel the concern that the Uruguay Round threatens US sovereignty. This charge was disturbing because of its inaccuracy. GATT and the concomitant World Trade Organization cannot change any US laws. However, after such concerns were raised earlier this year, the legislation was amended to make this point explicit. Section 102 of the GATT bill puts the following directly into US law:
``No provision of any of the Uruguay Round Agreements, nor the application of any such provision to any person or circumstance, that is inconsistent with any law of the United States shall have effect.''
When both the House and Senate approved this win-win agreement with strong bipartisan majorities, Congress set the stage for a cooperative and productive 1995.
The Republican agenda for change, outlined in the ``Contract With America,'' proposes to cut taxes, get government off the backs of American families, and create new private-sector jobs.
The bipartisan support for those goals in the GATT bill should help move the Congress forward on the mandate from the voters next year.