VALLEY GROUP UNSURE OF BERMAN'S TRADE FOCUS.
Rep. Howard Berman spent his annual luncheon with the San Fernando Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday seeking support for proposed trade legislation - a topic that left some members scratching their heads.
``A lot of us don't get caught up in national issues. We're so caught up in local issues,'' said John Ford, director of public and community relations for Mission Community Hospital in Panorama City.
John Laing, a bankruptcy attorney in Mission Hills, wanted to know how federal legislators could help revitalize the San Fernando Valley's economy, damaged after the downsizing of the aerospace and defense industries in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Berman, a Mission Hills Democrat, replied that there is little he could do to boost the sagging industries.
``The procurement of planes, missiles and equipment to fuel wars - that spending has plummeted in recent years,'' he told about 35 business and civic leaders at the Odyssey Restaurant in Granada Hills. ``More money is going to maintain the military rather than supply the military.''
Berman said fast-track trade legislation sought by President Clinton is vital to the U.S. economy.
``Export-driven growth is one major reason why the U.S. economy is so strong,'' Berman said, noting that one-quarter of the nation's economic growth can be traced to exports since 1992.
In California alone, exports have skyrocketed 45 percent since 1992, Berman said. ``The impressive growth in exports demonstrates the need for even more trade,'' he said.
Fast-track legislation, which Congress failed to pass in November, would force Congress to vote yes or no, without amendments, on trade agreements negotiated by the president with foreign countries. Fast-track authority was last enjoyed by President Ford and since has lapsed.
Berman said fast-track authority also would allow the president to push for better labor and environmental standards in foreign countries and reduce stiff tariffs the United States now faces.
``We can't afford to sit on the sidelines while the rest of the world hammers out new trade agreements,'' Berman said, noting that Asian countries are planning to negotiate a free trade area under the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. ``We need fast-track so the United States can play an active role in these agreements.''
PHOTO Howard Berman
Urges fast-track support