On the fast track


PRESIDENT BUSH has admitted ruefully that he's not very good when it comes to "this vision thing." Yet his success in convincing Congress to give him "fast track" authority to negotiate free trade agreements with Mexico and other nations indicates quite the opposite.

President Bush backed his vision of North America forming the biggest consumer market in the world with 360 million people and an annual production of more than $6 trillion, with hard work to convince Congress that the free trade benefits will outweigh the disadvantages. The administration estimates that only 64,000 jobs will be lost in "import-sensitive" industries. But they will be more than made up for by increased employment in export-oriented industries.

Since 1986, when Mexico began reducing its tariffs, exports from the United States have doubled to $28 billion. When the votes were in -- 231-192 in the House . . . and 59-36 . . . in the Senate -- President Bush's vision had overcome.

Both the representatives and the senators voted mostly along regional rather than partisan lines. So it was that a Democrat, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, found himself not only endorsing President Bush's trade strategy but also pointing out that the administration should be given authority to go ahead with even more wide-ranging negotiations with 108 countries in the Uruguayan Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

In the end it was the old argument all over again: protectionism versus free trade. Now President Bush has two years to demonstrate -- as history has shown time and time again -- that free trade will mean more prosperity for more people, in this country as well as abroad.

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