Biz groups lobby for free trade

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The Hollywood studios, consumer electronics makers and the music industry have called a temporary truce and are teaming to convince lawmakers of the importance of free trade.

The heads of the groups' major trade organizations told lawmakers in a letter released Monday that it was in the country's best interest to approve a number of trade agreements pushed by the Bush administration.

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Assn., told reporters "it was the first time in my career" that he had agreed to sign on with "two organizations I have opposed for years" — the MPAA and the RIAA.

"While we disagree strongly on the specifics of intellectual property, we agree on this point," he told reporters during a telephone news conference from the CEA's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

In a letter to House and Senate leaders signed by Shapiro, MPAA chief Dan Glickman and RIAA head Mitch Bainwol, the industry leaders asked for them to approve free trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama. They also urged lawmakers to give the president "clear pathway" to renew trade agreements with other countries.

"The growth of our industries and our ability to promote American values depends on access to foreign markets," they wrote. "We urge that progress toward global economic and social engagement through trade not be derailed as we move into the digital era, where American innovation and creativity have natural advantages. A retreat from international commerce would also be a retreat from the traditional American role of global economic and diplomatic leadership."

Shapiro and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab told reporters that the U.S. gains more than it loses when free trade agreements are signed. Schwab said the U.S. share of the electronics industry alone counted for $800 billion.

"You're talking about a big chunk of change here," she said.

She credited the rise in U.S. manufacturing output with free trade deals signed with other nations, saying exports to countries with the agreements was up 60%.

Shapiro said it was important to point out the benefits free trade brings to Americans as the rising tide of protectionist rhetoric in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail was worrisome.

He named three Republican candidates — former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — as free trade proponents but didn't mention any of the Democratic candidates.

"It's really about a mind-set," he said. "The problem with the primary season is that everyone takes extreme positions."

As for the leading Democratic candidates, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, and Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York generally have been supportive of free trade but have questioned the free trade agreements for weak enforcement of labor and a lack of environmental protections.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards has been the most critical of free trade policies, arguing that they have diminished protections for labor and the environment. He attacked Obama and Clinton for supporting the free trade deals with Peru.

Glickman told The Hollywood Reporter that the free trade debate doesn't break down strictly along party lines.

"In both parties there are free trade advocates and those that are anti-free trade," he said. "You can't paint it all with the same colored brush. Everybody talks about free and fair trade."

He said that Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee are free trade skeptics. Hunter called two of the biggest FTAs a "bad deal," while Huckabee has expressed concern that free trade can lead to unfair loss of American jobs.

Glickman, a former Democratic congressman and Agriculture Department secretary under President Clinton, said Democrats have often been the most vocal opponents of free trade agreements.

"In the last decade, Democrats have been more suspicious of the FTAs than Republicans," he said. "But Bill Clinton was a strong advocate of free trade and probably did more than any other person to open trade up around the world."

Politics aside, Glickman said joining with the CEA on this issue is a no-brainer.

"I think it's healthy when we can work together," he said.
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