Monday, February 7, 2011

Obama's Free Trade Opportunity

APP members Thomas "Mack" McLarty (former chief of staff to President Clinton in 1993-94 and helped bring Bill Daley into the White House to lead the 1993 Nafta ratification effort) and Nelson Cunningham (a former aide to President Clinton and to then-Sen. Joseph Biden) of McLarty Associates recently had an op ed in The Wall Street Journal, entitled "Obama's Free Trade Opportunity."

The encourage the President to advance America's trade agenda as a fundamental component of U.S. foreign policy. They write:
Our experience tells us that the only way to push a major trade agreement through Congress—even one where the nominally pro-trade GOP rules the House—is with strong and unyielding presidential leadership, a unified White House staff and cabinet, and a genuinely bipartisan approach to stakeholders and the Congress. 

First, the president must be fully committed. Nafta was a bipartisan success in no small part because of the personal involvement of Mr. Clinton and sometimes tortuous negotiations with members of Congress. It's true that some pork was doled out and more than one bridge was built as a result of a Nafta vote—something they probably still understand in Chicago. 
Second, the White House and cabinet must be unified in pulling for passage. Everyone from Vice President Joe Biden to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk must be fully engaged, without hesitation. Don't forget the crucial role that then-Vice President Al Gore's 1993 debate with Ross Perot played in swinging public opinion in favor of Nafta. 
Third, the effort must be genuinely bipartisan. We'll need scores of members from both sides to make passage possible (this is particularly true with a large tea party GOP caucus that is as yet undefined on trade). Perhaps Mr. Obama could even take a page from the 1993 playbook and bring into the White House a prominent Republican—former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills, former Reagan Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein, or a former congressman such as Jim Kolbe or Chris Shays, for example—to help quarterback the effort. 
Finally, the president has to show that his commitment to the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement isn't a one-off. Moderates and independents who have been spooked by an economic approach they see as veering strongly to the left are looking for signs that this president embraces their centrist views. A commitment to deficit reduction, sustained outreach to business, and a genuine embrace of trade liberalization must go hand-in-hand. Most importantly, the president should commit to advancing the pending trade agreements with Colombia and Panama right now, instead of leaving them until later as some in his administration would prefer. Why bother taking a half-measure on trade?

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