'Fast Track' on Trade Runs From Problems
Regarding the opinion-page article, "Clinton Goes too Slow on 'Fast Track' Trade," (May 29): The essential nature of the fast-track debate is being twisted. Arguing that US leadership in the hemisphere is at stake, many in Congress and in the private sector are pushing for an extension of extremely weak environmental and labor standards of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to new agreements with Chile and others. But what is at stake is our health and long-term welfare.
Congress will decide by September whether to extend so-called "fast track" treatymaking ability. In doing so, Congress agrees not to slow passage of free-trade agreements negotiated by the Clinton administration: Congress must either pass or fail an entire agreement. In theory, fast-track power streamlines the process of extending US free-trade agreements. In reality, Congress would agree to remove itself from decisionmaking in which the interests of Americans should be represented.
Proponents and opponents of broadening NAFTA are allowing the issue of extending fast-track legislation to become an ideological debate between protectionists and free-traders. Meanwhile, infants born across the Rio Grande from Matamoros, Mexico, in Brownsville, Texas, suffer birth defects, and fruits and vegetables sold on the streets of the US are cultivated with Mexican wastewater and sewage. While the Republicans hint that they would support renewal of fast-track legislation if new agreements are silent on labor and environmental issues, the San Diego-Tijuana corridor posts the highest number of endangered species of any US region, and Asian companies rush to establish industries in Mexico, a country infamous for its lax environmental standards.
Recent history demonstrates that socioeconomic development of binational regions has suffered as a result of fast-track agreements such as the original NAFTA, because too many of the details that ensure our health and welfare are entrusted to the free market. Before America should be convinced to extend its economic interdependence in return for short-term economic gain, it needs to implement policies that will improve the long-term welfare of the regions upon which the potential benefits of free trade depend - border communities.
True American leadership must demonstrate a commitment to sustainable social development both in the US and abroad. Perpetuating weak health, labor, and environmental standards in the US and, by extension, in its trading partners, does not accomplish this and is a mark against US leadership. If anything, US status would receive a much needed boost in the Southern Hemisphere from a progressive stand on health and environmental standards.
In slowing NAFTA's expansion and laying a long-term framework for further trade agreements that protect Americans' socioeconomic and environmental standards, we can avoid the politicization that has paralyzed Congress.
History has made very clear the risks incurred when a nation overextends its existing socioeconomic infrastructure. Americans like the author of your essay are doing a disservice by oversimplifying the debate. Deepening must occur before we extend (and some would argue, overextend) NAFTA membership to other states.
Jackson School of International Studies
University of Washington
Take on alcohol too
The column "America's Great Double Standard" (June 17) is on the mark.
If the administration and all the social and medical groups concerned about drugs - and now tobacco - would start a parallel campaign about alcohol, Americans might reap commensurate benefits.
Prohibition didn't work, but education and peer pressure might. Smoking was a sacred cow once; drinking doesn't have to enjoy that status any longer.
David W. LePage
Sun Valley, Calif.
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