- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2000

The recently approved China bill is the last major trade pact any president will be able to bring to Congress without new negotiating authority, a fact that presages another ferocious battle over the terms of globalization early in the next administration.

Either Vice President Al Gore or Texas Gov. George W. Bush, as the next president, will be sure to ask Congress to reauthorize "fast-track" trade negotiating authority, something lawmakers refused to do for President Clinton in 1997.

The new president also will face a tough fight on this issue. The China debate highlighted divisions in the United States over globalization but did little to heal them.

Ardent free-traders, exuberant over decisive victories in the House and Senate, believe they are primed to take the initiative on behalf of the new economy after five years of playing defense.

"We have momentum, the vote was bipartisan, and it showed that the high-tech sector can be very effective when it mobilizes in support of trade," said Dave McCurdy, president of the Electronic Industries Alliance.

Opponents of the White House and its allies in business and Congress see things differently.

"Fast track is toast," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. "Congress is simply no longer willing to delegate this authority to the president and then carry the political responsibility for it."

Fast track, a system introduced in 1974 that expired in 1993, lets the president negotiate trade agreements that would require complex changes to U.S. law. Congress then holds an up-or-down vote on the agreement and is not allowed to amend it.

The law was designed on the theory that foreign countries would be unwilling to negotiate with the United States if 535 members of Congress then would have an opportunity to change the resulting agreement.

Because the China trade agreement made only one narrow change to U.S. law, the Clinton administration was able to negotiate it without explicit authority from Congress.

Fast track failed in 1997 largely because Republicans resisted Democratic demands for a larger role for labor and environmental issues in trade agreements. With these issues given short shrift in the 1997 bill, unions and green groups fought fast track to a standstill.

Business lobbyists like Mr. McCurdy, no allies of labor and environmental groups, believe that some sort of accommodation with them will be necessary if fast track is to pass, a heartening sign to pro-trade Democrats.

"We will need to take into consideration issues that we have historically not labor, environment and other issues for trade legislation in the future," said Rep. Robert T. Matsui, California Democrat. "There's no question about it."

But Republicans, who often complain that Democrats are hostages to the anti-globalization whims of organized labor, show little sign of wanting compromise in this area. Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said the China vote shows that unions need not call the shots.

"The unions do not control trade policy in the U.S. Congress," Mr. Grassley said. "And they do not control all the Democrats."

Convinced that these conflicts could doom fast track from the start, Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, is pulling together representatives from business, labor and environmental groups in an effort to find common ground on trade issues before any legislative battle takes place.

"You can't just muscle fast track through the Congress," a congressional aide said.

Compounding efforts to pass fast track, neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Gore has any inherent advantages in forging a consensus on trade policy, observers said. Republicans can push trade liberalization unencumbered by the opinions of organized labor, a key Democratic constituency.

But trade legislation can pass only with bipartisan support, and a Democratic president stands a much better chance of convincing Democrats to back trade bills. As a result, Mr. McCurdy said, whoever takes the White House will have to make fast track a top priority for it to have a chance.

"It has to be part of the package for the first 100 days," he said. "The new president needs to mention it in his inaugural address, to say that trade is important for the new economy."

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