`We told you so," critics of the new World Trade Organization crow. Ever since the U.S. joined the WTO last year, opponents warned that it was surrendering its sovereignty to a band of Euro-trade hacks who would eagerly rule against America. Now, the WTO has decided that the U.S. must either ease clean-air restrictions on gasoline imported from Venezuela or face trade sanctions. Pull out now, say conservative, environmental, and consumer-rights groups.
It would be a monumental mistake to heed the call of the economic nationalists. The Clinton Administration was right to battle for congressional approval of U.S. entry into the WTO, an organization set up to foster multilateral trade. America's interests are still best served by wide-open markets and the freest possible flow of commerce and ideas.
Problem is, after fighting so hard for the WTO, the Clintonites seem to have dropped the ball. They have stood by while adversaries of multilateral trade pushed the hot buttons of resentment. The Administration also allowed talks geared toward dismantling trade barriers in financial services and telecommunications to collapse. The U.S. must defend more forcefully its interests at the WTO. America has just lost a widely publicized case, but over time it will gain many victories. It is widely expected that the U.S. will succeed in most of the dozen market-opening cases it has filed with the WTO. Multilateralism won't last long without active U.S. participation, and the U.S. has too much to lose to allow that to happen.