- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2001

The Bush administration is planning a major campaign in Congress and around the country in an effort to gain support for new free-trade agreements, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said yesterday.

Because lawmakers and the public remain ambivalent about the benefits of trade and globalization, the administration wants to engage Congress in a broad discussion of the issues before moving ahead with its legislative agenda, Mr. Zoellick said.

"What is most important to me is to make sure that Congress wants to see [an overall] trade agenda," Mr. Zoellick said in an interview. "We are putting the trade agenda on the board for people to talk about."

The administration plans to broaden consultation on trade beyond the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees, which have primary jurisdiction over the issue, he said, to include the small business and agriculture panels.

It also wants to reach out to groups such as Hispanics and blacks, as well as state and local leaders, who have not played a major role in trade policy, Mr. Zoellick said.

Congress faces an unusually busy calendar on trade issues alone, with a free-trade agreement with Jordan and a more modest pact with Vietnam up for approval this year. A bill that would provide trade preferences to some South American nations also awaits action.

Most importantly, President Bush has called on Congress to pass "trade-promotion authority." This legislation, also known as fast-track, allows the president to cut trade deals and then submit them to Congress for an up-or-down vote in which no amendments are permitted.

Mr. Bush will travel to Quebec on April 20 for a summit of heads of state from North and South America, where leaders hope to jump-start talks on a Free Trade Area of the Americas.

The president needs a sign that fast-track authority is on the way to reach this goal, Mr. Zoellick has said.

Congress refused to grant President Clinton this authority in 1997 amid a dispute between Republicans and Democrats over the role of labor and environmental rules in trade agreements.

But Mr. Zoellick has signaled a willingness to look for creative solutions to a problem that has vexed trade policy for most of the last decade.

"I need to get the debate joined on the individual items" in the agenda, he said. "I need to get the debate joined on labor and environment."

Because many Republicans are certain to oppose new free-trade legislation, the Bush administration will need Democrats to back his agenda.

Mr. Zoellick retreated from earlier statements that the administration would seek a broad bill that would corral every pending piece of legislation and force Congress into a fundamental vote on trade policy.

"I happen to believe there are legislative [and] political benefits to doing it as a package," Mr. Zoellick said. "But at the end of the year, I want to get them done."

Still, Mr. Zoellick warned that Democrats would have to work in good faith with the administration to pass the fast-track bill if they expected action on the other legislation.

"If we move on individual items, it's important that we also engage on trade-promotion authority."

Mr. Zoellick's suggestions to this effect last week angered key free-trade Democrats, who want the administration to seek approval of the Jordan agreement, which includes labor and environmental rules, as soon as possible.

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