Clinton fights for trade treaty

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The Independent Online
STRUGGLING to save the imperilled North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), Bill Clinton yesterday warned that congressional rejection of the treaty would damage US and world economic prospects.

The President criticised the normally pro-Democrat labour movement for its 'musclebound, roughshod tactics' to secure the demise of a free- trade area linking the United States, Canada and Mexico.

If Nafta is defeated, 'the economic interests of this country will be weakened', Mr Clinton declared in an hour- long appearance on a television talk show. He urged opponents to consider 'how much harder it's going to be to get Gatt (the world trade agreement whose effective deadline falls in mid- December), if the House votes Nafta down'.

Despite what he called 'naked pressure' by unions - including threats to cut off financial support for pro-Nafta Democratic congressmen and to field their own candidates in congressional primaries - Mr Clinton told NBC's Meet the Press programme he was optimistic he could round up the 218 votes required before the vital vote on 17 November.

His remarks illustrated the extraordinary alliances forged by the Nafta issue - a Democratic President backed by his four living Republican predecessors, the bulk of Republican congressmen and big business, having to fight a majority of his own party. Barely one-third of the 254 House Democrats are solidly pro-Nafta.

The White House is staking all on tomorrow's television debate between Vice-President Al Gore and Nafta's arch-foe, Ross Perot. Its hope is that a convincing performance by Mr Gore will defang the Texas billionaire, and persuade Democratic waverers they will not be destroyed by a Perot-inspired backlash at the midterm elections in 1994.