Clinton Seeks Converts to NAFTA
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House, already conducting its own version of ″Let’s Make a Deal″ to woo votes for the free-trade pact with Canada and Mexico, today redoubled its efforts to rescue the agreement.
The administration was seeking to persuade nervous, wavering Democrats that Tuesday’s elections - in which Democrats lost in major contests in New York, New Jersey and Virginia - shouldn’t spook them into voting against the North American Free Trade Agreement.
″That’s the wrong lesson,″ said White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers.
Instead, she indicated the administration would promote another message from the off-year elections: ″They better be scared into action if they want to hold onto their seats.″
Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who does work for the White House, was dispatched to Capitol Hill today to tell Democrats that his polling suggests that voters will not turn on them for supporting the pact, Myers said.
Clinton, meanwhile, met with another group of undecided Democrats in the White House today in an effort to lure more support for the agreement to end trade barriers among the United States, Mexico and Canada over 15 years.
Later, he was traveling to Kentucky to further promote the plan.
Although White House officials privately concede their still at least two dozen - perhaps three dozen - votes short, Myers said today: ″I think this is a wide open battle.″
Still, clearly NAFTA’s Democratic supporters and the White House were not pleased with the election results, which could further erode Clinton’s ability to line up Democratic votes for the accord.
Meanwhile, the administration continued making new side deals to help specific industries in an effort to rescue the agreement. But opponents contend his efforts are too little and too late to save the pact.
The administration, heeding demands from unhappy lawmakers, has trotted out proposals to help sugar, citrus and vegetable growers and manufacturers of everything from brooms and plate glass to appliances.
But opponents said the flurry of deal-making was coming too late. They claimed they still had the votes to defeat the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement, which would create the world’s largest free trade zone linking the United States, Mexico and Canada.
″The administration is so desperate to get votes that it is not clear what they may be willing to give away,″ said Lori Wallach, with the Citizens Trade Coalition, an umbrella group of NAFTA opponents. ″But nothing they have done so far will deliver any significant votes.″
Clinton gave a far different assessment when he summoned congressional leaders to the White House on Wednesday for the send-off of the legislation, saying, ″We don’t have the votes today, but I think we are getting there.″
In an effort to meet various objections, U.S. negotiators bargained with Mexico until 4 a.m. Wednesday on new side deals.
U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor proclaimed the negotiations a success and said Mexico had:
- Pledged in a side letter not to switch to corn syrup sweeteners for soft drinks. Sugar producers in the United States had feared Mexico would use this back-door approach to free up sugar for export to the United States.
- Accepted a U.S. proposal that exports of citrus and vegetables be subject to higher tariffs if either the shipments of those products suddenly surge or the price changes dramatically. Previously, NAFTA would have allowed reimposition of higher tariffs to protect against sudden increases in the volume of shipments but would not have been triggered by price changes.
- Agreed to begin negotiations as soon as NAFTA goes into effect on a quicker reduction in Mexican tariffs than the agreement currently stipulates for flat glass, wine and small appliances. U.S. producers had complained that American tariffs on these products were being reduced much more quickly than Mexican tariffs.
Kantor said the legislation also would require a study of NAFTA’s impact on jobs in key U.S. industries to be done by July 1, 1997.
While the legislation would not require the United States to withdraw from the agreement if adverse effects are found, opponents are certain to use such findings to force a congressional vote on doing just that.
The legislation also calls for monitoring of the agreements’ impact on the giant U.S. auto industry and the small broomcorn broom industry, which currently is protected against imports from Mexico by high tariffs.
Under the rules by which Congress is considering NAFTA, the implementing legislation cannot be amended now that it has been submitted by the president.
The administration’s efforts to craft implementing legislation that would win over the opposition met with mixed reviews. Sugar, citrus and flat glass interests voiced approval but Florida vegetable growers said they were still opposed.
Bobby F. McKown, general manager of the 12,200-member Florida Citrus Mutual in Lakeland, Fla., said the new agreement met the concerns of Florida citrus growers and he expected his group to endorse NAFTA once it had reviewed the legislative language.
However, Mike Stewart, executive vice president of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association in Orlando, Fla., said the new safeguards mechanism would be too slow to provide any real help to vegetable growers because it would take too long to implement.
A spokeswoman for Sen. John Breaux, D-La., said the new protections for the U.S. sugar industry were sufficient to gain Breaux’s support for NAFTA. But Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., another undecided from a sugar-producing state, said he still had other agricultural concerns.