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Time Is Right for Chile Accord

Once again, as he did in December of 1994 at Miami’s Summit of the Americas, President Clinton has put Chile on the U.S. trade agenda. This time, we hope, he’ll be able to convince Congress to move promptly on the issue and bring Chile into a NAFTA-type trade agreement. Chile has long been considered the likeliest South American candidate for such a role.

Clinton needs so-called fast-track authorization to move on this opportunity to expand hemispheric trade, a goal we support. The time seems right, but an accord will not happen without full and thorough debate on the proposal within Congress and among interested parties throughout the United States.

Ultimately the White House would put a package together on an enhanced trade relationship with Chile. Congress would have the final say, and, if it approves, there will be no fiddling with the pact after that point, avoiding the last-minute changes that tend to torpedo deals like this.

The Chileans have said they are ready to negotiate an agreement. But the problem for President Clinton is a perception among many Americans that NAFTA, the free trade bloc consisting of the United States, Mexico and Canada, is not working to U.S. benefit and thus this nation should not enter into a pact with Chile. And some sectors simply don’t want to compete in a free trade zone.

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But the U.S. economic system is based on the principles of free trade, and in today’s global economy the fewer the barriers the better the prospects. In a fairly structured agreement, increased trade means more jobs. NAFTA--which some observers say continues to pose open questions--remains the test of that proposition. A deal with Chile might provide a clearer result. Congress should grant the president the fast-track authorization he needs to shape a package for Chile and bring it to a vote.


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