Gephardt Says Trade Policy Needs New Course


Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, one of the most influential Democrats in Congress on trade issues, outlined a set of tough guidelines Tuesday for establishing a new course for the nation’s commercial dealings with its trading partners.

Although his position as majority leader makes the Missouri legislator the most important White House ally on trade issues in the House, his speech spelled out potential differences with President Clinton that, if not wide, nevertheless could prove politically serious for the Administration.

“Trade policy is the inescapable link to the world economy,” Gephardt told a luncheon meeting of the Economic Strategy Institute, a Washington policy study group. “If we do everything else right but we fail to have a trade policy that fights for the rights of our farmers, workers and businesses, then we will fall short of the goal of a high standard of living. At best, we will tread water.


“At worst--which is what’s happening to us today--we will have decline or a furious effort just to hold the line.”

Although important elements of the North American Free Trade Agreement remain under negotiation, Clinton has seized on the pact--along with an updated agreement regulating global trade--as among the most important steps in pulling the United States and its trading partners into a strong economic recovery.

Gephardt’s comments outline the difficult terrain facing Clinton as he attempts to build support for the accord, which would break down trade barriers between Mexico, Canada and the United States, and an updated General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which is being negotiated in the Uruguay Round of trade talks in Geneva.

The majority leader praised the Administration’s approach to trade--an approach that has appeared at times to be protectionist even as the Administration has expressed its desire to open its borders to an unlimited flow of foreign products.

Gephardt offered his support for the North American treaty, but only if it contains “effective” supplemental agreements upholding stringent labor standards and protecting the environment.

The congressman took a hard line on the GATT negotiations. He said that he supports Clinton’s request that the GATT agreement be put on a fast track for approval--under which it would not be subject to amendment--when it eventually is submitted to Congress.


But, the Missouri congressman said, any new agreement must “aggressively” pursue greater access to global markets for U.S. products, enable the United States “to enforce its laws against unfair and predatory trade practices,” promote U.S. service industries and protect such creative endeavors as recordings, computer programs and designs.