- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2001

President Bush will move quickly this spring to speed negotiations on a free-trade agreement covering the Western Hemisphere, his nominee for U.S. trade representative, Robert Zoellick, told a Senate panel yesterday.

But Mr. Bush first needs a clear signal from Congress that it will reauthorize a law that allows for quick congressional approval of trade agreements, Mr. Zoellick said.

Presidents and prime ministers from North and South America will meet in Quebec City in Canada on April 20 to decide the fate of negotiations to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas.

"President Bush has emphasized that to set a new course in the hemisphere, he needs to hold out the prospect in Quebec City that new trade-promotion authority is on its way," Mr. Zoellick told the Senate Finance Committee during his confirmation hearing.

Mr. Zoellick, a former top State Department official under Secretary James A. Baker and Bush foreign policy adviser during the presidential campaign, was warmly received by senators, who praised his experience in government and the private sector. Because of his prior work, Mr. Zoellick, unlike many Cabinet nominees, was able to jump in and discuss many policy details.

Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said Mr. Zoellick could be confirmed by the end of next week.

During the hearing, Mr. Zoellick outlined a strategy for trade policy that closely resembles the approach he supported while working for Mr. Baker in the early 1990s. The Bush administration, he said, will try to shore up the domestic consensus around trade and globalization and then move aggressively to negotiate both regional and global agreements on expanded trade.

"If confirmed, I will promptly follow up [with Congress] to consider how to re-establish trade promotion authority for the president based on the 'fast-track' precedent and the broadest possible support," Mr. Zoellick said.

Fast-track allows the president to negotiate a trade agreement and submit it to Congress for approval on an expedited basis. Congress must approve or reject the pact but may not make changes to it.

Some senators warned that it will not be possible to pass new negotiating authority by the Quebec City summit. But congressional aides said Mr. Grassley is discussing with Bush administration officials how the United States can send a clear signal to other countries in the hemisphere that it is serious about negotiating a free-trade deal.

Mr. Zoellick immediately ran up against the same problem that confronted the Clinton administration in its bid for new negotiating authority, the question of whether to include labor and environmental regulations in trade agreements. The issue has sharply divided Republicans and Democrats for most of the past 10 years.

Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, warned Mr. Zoellick that Mr. Bush will need Democrats to pass his trade agenda. And these issues, important for Democratic constituencies in organized labor and environmental groups, must be included.

"If legitimate labor and environmental concerns are not incorporated into fast-track legislation, I will oppose that legislation and work hard for its defeat," Mr. Baucus said.

But Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, told Mr. Zoellick that many Republicans remain fundamentally opposed to labor and environmental rules in trade agreements.

Mr. Zoellick also sent a clear signal, directed largely at the 15-nation European Union, that the United States will move ahead with other free-trade initiatives, especially if global talks at the World Trade Organization do not bear fruit.

"I want to be able to tell my counterparts that we are willing to negotiate if they are serious about eliminating barriers yet also make clear that America will look elsewhere if they delay," Mr. Zoellick said.

But the Bush administration will give WTO talks a chance and seek a global negotiation in a variety of areas, especially agriculture, he said.

Former President George Bush's administration negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, for which Mr. Zoellick was the senior State Department negotiator, partly as a response to global talks that stalled over Europe's unwillingness to reduce its agricultural subsidies. The strategy is credited with helping the Clinton administration wrap up the round of negotiations in 1993 that created the WTO.

This time around, the United States has grown increasingly frustrated not only over agriculture but over Europe's refusal to reform its banana-trading system and to lift a ban on hormone-treated beef. As a result, some business groups have urged the incoming administration to bypass Europe and concentrate on the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

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