Trade Promotion Authority

June 24, 2001

June 24, 2001

President Bush is asking Congress for trade promotion authority -- fast tract. It will not be an easy sell. The last time President Clinton asked for it, it was denied. Labor unions are worried about competition from cheap labor and environmentalists want to impose strict environmental obligations on other countries. If we think these kind of internal conflicts are unique, guess agam.

Turn back the clock to 1990. At that time, European union members pledged to grant full membership to the Union to the former communist states of Central Europe. It sounded then like a great idea. Why not include Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic?

If the objective is to improve security and promote economic development, expanding the European Union clearly is the right thing to do. An ambitious timetable for admitting those nations is 2004 -- just around the corner. As the time draws closer, apprehension sets in. The EU provides some 95 billion dollars in agricultural subsidies but the French farmers do not want to share that with the poor Polish farmers. The European Union's poorest states receive heavy subsidies -- Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy. With the new Central European members coming aboard, they become the "poor" and will take the money away from the "old poor". That doesn't sit well with the "old poor".

It's not just a dispute over money. Entry into the EU opens the border to the free movement of people. And the Germans and Austrians are worried about competition from cheap labor in the East. Sound familiar? Some of the Eastern nations, Poland for example, are worried that the rich Germans will want to buy up their properties.

President Bush needs trade promotion authority. The European Union needs to expand eastward. But with the growing opposition to globalization, it's not going to be an easy sell.