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Put Trade on the Fast Track by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell

BG0109E | Date: 2001-10-24

(This byliner was published on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal October 16.)

Since Sept. 11, our efforts have been devoted to the creation of an international coalition to root out and punish those responsible for this day of horror. Now, we must ensure that our broader foreign policy agenda is not hijacked by the terrorists. While the campaign against international terrorism remains our top priority, it must not be our only priority.

Among our other priorities, nothing is more important than promoting international trade. As Congress begins to debate whether to grant President Bush Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), formerly known as "fast-track," I would like to explain why this is an essential part of our diplomatic tool kit.

America's prosperity depends on trade. Exports accounted for over one-quarter of our economic growth over the past decade and currently support an estimated 12 million high-paying jobs. One third of all agricultural production is sold abroad. For over a decade, imports have given Americans high-quality goods at lower prices, a boon especially for lower-income families. Increased trade is essential as we seek to re-establish lost economic growth.

However, the case for trade goes beyond these direct benefits to the American economy. For trade helps create a secure international environment within which Americans can prosper.

First, international trade creates wealth. Studies have shown that developing countries with open trading systems have seen large drops in poverty. History gives us proof. We need only compare the relative affluence of South Koreans with the starvation faced by North Koreans.

With higher incomes come longer lives, greater literacy, better health, better working conditions, a cleaner environment, and more stable, peaceful societies. Economic isolation, on the other hand, is the fast track to poverty, disease, poor working conditions, environmental degradation, and the despair that leads to a loss of faith in political institutions.

Second, international trade supports personal freedom. The market requires governments to set realistic rules, then stand back to let millions of individuals make their own decisions. This basic economic freedom, in turn, can become the thin end of a wedge for reducing restrictions in other areas of life.

In China, we already see the impact of decentralized economic decision-making on personal freedom. While China still has far to go on human rights, the dynamic of the market has freed daily decision-making to an extent unheard of in the past half-century.

Third, international trade promotes international responsibility. Countries that benefit from participation in a multilateral trading agreement have strong reasons not to take actions that threaten that agreement or their place in it. For example, Mexico's growing trade relations with the U.S., anchored by the North American Free Trade Agreement, have helped it weather a serious economic crisis, modernize its economic policy, and undertake reforms that contributed to the opening of its political system.

A strong global trading system requires American leadership. That is the clear lesson of the last century. Compare the poverty of the interwar years, when America's retreat from the world helped turn recession into the Great Depression, with the unparalleled prosperity of the half-century following the end of World War II, when American economic leadership built the Bretton Woods institutions.

For America to continue to lead today's world to security and greater prosperity, we need TPA. Equipped with TPA, we can lead the way on talks to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas or a new round of World Trade Organization negotiations. Without TPA, we will be on the sidelines.

TPA is more than a tool; it is a partnership with the elected representatives of the American people. Under TPA, Congress establishes specific objectives before talks begin, then provides advice throughout the negotiating process. President Bush has committed to a consultation process with Congress that will ensure that our negotiating strategies reflect the views of our elected representatives. If, at the end of the process, Congress does not find a trade agreement to be in our national interest, it can still vote the agreement down.

In short, TPA represents a wise exercise of Congress's constitutional power of regulating commerce with foreign nations. That is why Congress granted and renewed fast-track authority, the forerunner of TPA, for 20 years until it last expired in 1994.

America flourishes in a world that welcomes America's values. And America's values flourish in a world where a vibrant international trading system reinforces democracy, growth, and the free flow of ideas. The State Department's mission is to promote these trends and use them to advance America's interests in the world. It's a challenging job. We need every tool we have. We need -- America needs -- TPA in our tool box.