Clinton Seeks Latin Fast Track

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WASHINGTON: Ronald Reagan sold his Latin America policy by casting himself as Paul Revere to an imminent Sandinista invasion, but Bill Clinton faces a tougher challenge in the sedate climate of post-Cold War trade politics.

This week, the President visits Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Chile, building the case for Congress to grant him powers to negotiate trade pacts without the shackles of pork-barrel politics: the so-called Fast Track. Where Reagan spooked Americans with tales of toppling dominoes, Clinton may rely on the specter of Mercosur. The trade association combining the booming economies of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay is fast emerging as an alternative to U.S.-dominated trade pacts, and has pledged to sign a free trade pact with the European Union in 1999.

So as the president touts the economic successes of his hosts this week for audiences back home, listen carefully for the the subtext: Without Fast Track, Europe is going to be camping out in America's backyard.