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`Into the act'

THE conference committee being assembled to work out a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the trade bill is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, ever. As Jimmy Durante used to say, everybody wants to get into the act. On the administration side, the late commerce secretary, Malcolm Baldrige, a major voice for Reagan trade policy, is to be succeeded by former Armco chairman C. William Verity Jr. Treasury Secretary James Baker III will, however, serve as liaison with Congress on the trade bill. Mr. Baldrige will be missed, but Mr. Baker is such a consensus builder that a bill the President can sign is to be expected.

Meanwhile, as the discussion goes on in Washington, so too do all the economic phenomena around the globe: such as the strikes in South Korea.

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One of the givens in trade policy discussion has been that the United States will inevitably face competition from countries with lower labor costs. In a global economy, the US cannot insulate itself from downward pressure on wages. But the Koreans on strike for higher wages are a reminder that a low-cost labor market may not remain so forever. And so whatever bill the congressional conference committee works out does not have to be a wall of fortification to protect the US from the rigors of free trade.

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