Trade is finally on front burner.

Author:Modic, Stan
Position:Bipartisanship in American trade policy

Finally there seems to be recognition in Washington that "free trade' is not synonymous with "fair trade." The United States is starting to fight back. Or so it seems. President Bush is finally giving some attention to what the globalization of our industries and economy is doing to our middle class and to the loss of jobs. He finally named a new manufacturing czar, William "Woody" Sutton, and has a hardnosed trade negotiator, Susan Schwab, who knows how to play hardball, I'm told.

Freshmen Democratic House members are demanding and getting action on what they term a "misguided trade agenda." We even have a "new trade policy for America to improve pending free trade agreements," says Rep. Charles Rangel, House Ways and Means Committee chairman, adding "we are on the brink of restoring bipartisanship to American trade policy."

For the life of me, I do not understand how trade became a partisan issue. Aren't all of our politicians in Washington in favor of saving jobs and protecting America's industrial base?

Will any of this do any good? Only time will tell! But at least it is a start! Frank Varga, vice president of international economic affairs of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), is convinced there is much more positive action on our trade problems. Asked if the appointment of a new manufacturing czar was one of them, he was noncommittal, saying only that "certainly we are better off with him than without him."

Varga's boss, NAM President John Engler, is more optimistic. He feels "the importance of [the manufacturing czar] position can not be underestimated." He sees "Woody" as "exceptional" as the President's "point person" for the industry's cause. We'll see! The glitch in the "czar" job is that the "czar" can say and do only what the President's policy permits.

The new compromise trade policy announced in May is also hardly an answer to leveling the trading field. It requires countries with trade agreements with the United States to commit to adopting and enforcing basic international labor and environmental standards of business practices.

Kevin Kearns, president of the U.S. Business and Industry Council, sees the new policy as "almost completely irrelevant" to the interest of American manufacturers. He questions why we could expect compliance on labor and environmental provisions in trade agreements when...

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