- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

President Bush yesterday said his administration will continue to negotiate free-trade agreements, as top congressional Democrats, who now are in the majority in both houses of Congress, attacked the administration’s handling of trade issues.

Mr. Bush is expected to ask this week for renewal of “trade promotion authority,” which allows him to submit trade agreements to Congress for an up-or-down vote without changes. That authority expires June 30, but with new Democratic majorities in Congress, he may face a fight.

“We’ve got free-trade agreements,” he said in a speech at Caterpillar Inc. in East Peoria, Ill. “That’s how you make sure that we’re treated fairly.”

“We’re going to continue to negotiate free-trade agreements,” he told 300 factory workers standing on a factory floor.

Caterpillar is a major exporter. Last year just over half its products were exported, with a value of about $10.5 billion. In addition, the company’s products and components are made in 50 U.S. facilities and in 23 other countries.

Mr. Bush alluded to the importance of exports and trade agreements to Caterpillar in his speech. Chile, he said, is now the company’s fifth-largest export market since the U.S. trade agreement with that country went into effect in 2004, while Caterpillar exports to Australia have grown 26 percent since that agreement entered into force in 2005.

Mr. Bush also defended trade with China.

“I understand trade with China is considered controversial,” he said, “I know that.

“But I want to tell you something, if you’re a Caterpillar worker or a Caterpillar shareholder, what that has meant [is]that Caterpillar exports to China have increased by 40 percent since the market was opened. That’s helped to create more than 5,000 new jobs right here in America.”

In a statement issued after Mr. Bush’s speech, House Ways and Means trade subcommittee Chairman Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat, said the administration had not used its trade promotion authority well enough to advance U.S. interests and shape globalization.

“The administration’s policy has been far too passive in enforcing trade agreements, in breaking down unfair barriers to U.S. products, and in establishing rules that raise standards of living in the U.S. and around the globe,” Mr. Levin said.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, called for legislative changes to ensure job creation under trade promotion authority and more protection for U.S. workers and business.

Mr. Baucus called reauthorization an opportunity “to address Americans’ legitimate concerns on trade, with more vigorous enforcement of laws and agreements, greater congressional consultation — so we can fight for workers and businesses back home — and better labor and environmental standards.”

Mr. Rangel said Congress needs “some key assurances” before it extends trade negotiating authority and said Congress must be an “active partner” in trade negotiations to make sure agreements are in the best interests of Americans.

“We need to maintain the best work force in the world to compete in today’s global marketplace, and that means we must provide workers with portable skills and benefits to keep them employed and, when absolutely necessary, to provide effective transitions to new jobs,” he said.

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