Failure of the U.S. Congress to ratify the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) would be “a stunning reversal” and “the most detrimental thing” that could be done to the health of the U.S. and the global economy, Ira S. Shapiro, general counsel of the Office of the United State Trade Representative told the   Atlanta Roundtable.

Some 30 Atlanta business men and women attended the Nov. 16 evening Roundtable discussion at the offices of Atlanta law firm Troutman Sanders which focused on the upcoming GATT vote and its impact on global trade.

Mr. Shapiro spoke from Washington D.C. by way of a conference call, saying that the vote was of an historic significance “that comes along only once a decade or so.”

After seven years of negotiations and receiving bipartisan support in the Congress, he said that failure to pass the agreement would bring on “severe consequences.”  But between the lines of his rhetorical flourishes, he indicated that a bipartisan compromise would be achieved if Newt Gingrich, who likely will be new Speaker of the House, remained supportive.

“We would never have had NAFTA without Newt Gingrich,” he said, praising Mr. Gingrich for not joining the attacks on the agreement of Ralph Nader, Ross Perot or Pat Buchanan, whom he called  “a vocal, effective, articulate minority opposition.”

He urged passage before the end of the year when Congress’ “fast track” procedure, which prevents amendments to the agreement being introduced from the floor, expires.  The edifice of “elaborately constructed compromises” would collapse, never to be reconstructed, should ratification fail, he said.

He specifically mentioned the elaborate negotiations concerning the “budget offsets” which have been agreed upon to compensate for the loss of government revenues expected from lowering of certain tariffs as particularly vulnerable.

And he pointed to the 28 countries which already have approved the agreement, and to the European Union, Canada and Japan which have promised to accept it once the U.S. does.  “We asked others to accept ‘rules of the game’ that we negotiated with them.  If we back away, it would be a stunning reversal and others would walk away,” he added.

 Congress should not support the agreement for the sake of its trading partners alone, he added, but rather out of self-interest, citing revenues the U.S. would gain.

The Roundtable was chaired by Kenneth Cutshaw, an international attorney with Troutman Sanders who earlier this year was appointed to the prestigious government Advisory Committee on Customs Matters. Globalfax joined Troutman Sanders as a sponsor of the event.