Clinton Sells GATT Treaty As a Home Run
President, businessmen team up to push trade deal; opponents say it sells out US
MOTHERHOOD, apple pie, and ... the GATT?
That's how President Clinton is promoting the new global trade accord, which he hopes lawmakers will pass in time for its Jan. 1, 1995 start-up.
Supporters are bringing this arcane, complex General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade - the so-called GATT - into public view by airing television commercials comparing its passage on Capitol Hill to a baseball triumph. Mr. Clinton is working feverishly to win Congressional approval before lawmakers leave for their August recess next week.
``It's hard to win over the average Joe on the GATT: that's why we chose the baseball gimmick,'' says John Boidock, vice president for government relations at Texas Instruments Worldwide. Mr. Boidock, whose company stands to gain from the lower barriers and freer trade that the GATT promises, worked with the White House to broadcast GATT baseball. The commercials' most important targets, however, are members of Congress and their staffs, who can watch GATT baseball during the advertising breaks from Sunday morning news shows.
They also receive Mr. Boidock's GATT baseball cards, one for each of the 50 states. California's, for example, ticks off top export industries, such as machinery, computers, and transportation equipment, and it highlights $35 billion in economic growth since negotiations on the new trade accord began in 1987.
``If all people hear or see about the GATT is an advertisement, then we're making a crucial connection between GATT and jobs,'' says a senior trade official. But most of all, he says, ``it's important to show members of Congress that the business community is engaged and willing to devote some of its resources to push this.''
As in other heavily export-oriented states, the GATT has a real resonance in California - especially in the business community, where it has strong backing, says John Emerson, special assistant to the president and Clinton's chief White House strategist on the GATT campaign.
But he adds, Capitol Hill is where he has centered his drive to sell the accord. ``It's not so much a grass-roots effort as it is an effort of opinion leaders.'' There are plenty of them on both sides of the debate.
On one end, bipartisan GATT-bashing has become fashionable among public figures who have formed a joint platform. Unlikely allies, such as feminist Gloria Steinem and ultraconservative Phyllis Schlafly, and political opposites Jerry Brown and Pat Buchanan, among 130 other high-profile signatories, are demanding that the president extend the deadline for congressional consideration of GATT until the middle of next year.
Critics fear US sovereignty will be usurped by the new World Trade Organization, which takes over the GATT's functions at the beginning of next year. They have become among the most orthodox budget watchers and insist that the up to $16 billion in revenue the US government will lose over the next five years because of free trade's elimination of tariffs will present an unacceptable shortfall in government financing.
They also object to the administration's push for a broad agenda. White House efforts to link workers' rights and environmental standards to the agreement - due to pressure from organized labor, ecology groups and others - will dampen enthusiasm for the GATT among its 117 members. Trade protectionists will gain ground, they argue, as countries take action against those who fail to meet these impossibly exacting conditions.
Any postponement will delay economic benefits at home and hamper US firms trying to penetrate foreign markets, challenges a letter signed by the Alliance for GATT Now, a group of some 450 economists, including Nobel laureates James Tobin, Paul Samuelson, and Robert Solow. They warn that ``delay will also weaken the economic leadership position of the United States.''
Those funny baseball cards, replete with GATT-related economic data about the 50 states, reflect information about how and why the US is the world's top economy. Fully backing Clinton's effort to win congressional approval for GATT this year, a coalition of 40 of the nation's governors last week urged Clinton ``not to lose sight of the tremendous economic activity that greater trade liberalization will generate.'' They say the GATT will add between $100 billion to $200 billion a year to the US economy and create 1.4 million jobs by the 10th year after it is in place.
Advocates insist that the accord is more important than ever. The US trade deficit is moving toward its second highest level in history - a direction that could be reversed by greater US access to protected European, Japanese, Chinese, and other Asian markets.
While GATT's detractors complain that the administration has made the debate ``inside baseball'' rather than popularizing it, they report a ``strikingly broad cross-section of prominent American citizens and organizations'' on their own team. The White House claims its supporters represent a wide spectrum.
``We've successfully reached out to high-credibility groups, such as the Consumers' Union, and met their needs on health and safety standards, and we've satisfied sovereignty issue concerns of [conservatives] Judge Bork and Jack Kemp.''