- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2007

Free-trade policies making it easier for U.S. companies to sell their products around the globe are an important ingredient to the economy’s vitality, President Bush said today as he projected another year of good — though somewhat slower — economic growth.

Mr. Bush, in his annual economic report to Congress, made a fresh pitch for breaking down trade barriers and energizing global trade talks. He called on Congress to extend his authority to negotiate free-trade deals, a request that likely will face an uphill battle in the Democrat-controlled Congress.

“This authority is essential to completing good trade agreements,” Mr. Bush wrote in the introduction to the report. “The Congress must renew it if we are to improve our competitiveness in the global economy.”

With the United States racking up record trade deficits and facing intense competition from rapidly growing China and India, global trade tensions have intensified.

Democrats blame Mr. Bush’s free-trade policies for contributing to the trade deficit, costing U.S. factory jobs and exposing U.S. workers to unfair competition from low-wage countries.

Against that backdrop, Mr. Bush faces a daunting challenge in getting Congress to renew the Trade Promotion Authority, also known as fast-track authority. It lets the president negotiate trade deals that Congress must approve without amendments. That authority expires July 1.

The Bush administration argues that the way to deal with the trade deficit is through free-trade policies that make it easier for U.S. companies to do business abroad. Getting China to move to a more flexible currency system, another administration goal, also would help U.S. exporters.

Critics contend that China is keeping its currency artificially low, giving Chinese companies a big trade advantage over U.S. companies. The United States has a record $202 billion trade deficit with China alone, the greatest ever with a single country.

Irked by China’s currency and trade policies, some Democrats and Republicans in Congress want to impose hefty tariffs on Chinese made goods flowing into the United States.

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