- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2001

President Bush yesterday urged business leaders to help him "bring sanity to the United States Congress" by persuading lawmakers to give him fast-track authority to strike deals for free trade, which he called "a moral imperative."
In a speech before the Council of Americas, an influential business group, Mr. Bush extolled the virtues of trading freely not just with Western Hemisphere nations, but also with China, a communist regime that held 24 Americans hostage last month. The president suggested free trade would result in political freedom.
"Look at our friends Mexico and the political reforms there; look at Taiwan; look at South Korea," Mr. Bush said. "And someday soon, I hope that an American president will end that list by adding, 'Look at China. I believe in open trade with China, because I believe that freedom can triumph in China."
Mr. Bush wants fast-track authority, which would allow him to negotiate trade deals that Congress could ratify or reject, but not modify. Mr. Bushs father enjoyed such authority, which expired in 1994 under President Clinton because of environmental and labor concerns.
"Since then, efforts have stalled as U.S. trade promotion authority was allowed to lapse," the president complained. "The inactivity of the American government has had real costs for the American people."
He added: "Free-trade agreements are being negotiated all over the world, and were not a party to them. And this has got to change."
Mr. Bush is expected to formally submit his free-trade priorities to Congress this week. Because some Republicans oppose presidential fast-track authority, the president needs the support of centrist Democrats. Yesterday, he signaled that he would try to assuage their concerns about labor and environmental policies.
"My administration wants to work with Congress and to listen to what the members have to say," Mr. Bush said. "Weve been especially impressed by the fresh, new thinking of many members about how to advance environmental and worker protection concerns in ways that open trade, rather than closing trade."
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, who heads the Finance Committee, has said he hopes to pass trade negotiating legislation out of his panel by June or early July, after the Senate votes on tax and budget legislation. That timetable would lay the groundwork for a vote on fast-track this fall in the House, where observers expect a drawn-out battle to obtain a majority.
Although some Republicans consider labor and environmental provisions potential deal-busters, Mr. Bush took note of the political power that these and other special-interest groups wielded during violent protests at last months Summit of the Americas in Quebec.
"Americans want to live on a cleaner planet," the president said yesterday. "We want labor standards upheld and children protected from exploitation.
"Americans want human rights and individual freedom to advance. Open trade advances those American values, those universal values.
"By failing to make the case for trade, weve allowed a new kind of protectionism to appear in this country," Mr. Bush said. "It talks of workers while it opposes a major source of new jobs. It talks of the environment while opposing the wealth-creating policies that will pay for clean air and water in developing nations. It talks of the disadvantaged, even as it offers ideas that will keep many of the poor in poverty.
"Open trade is not just an economic opportunity, it is a moral imperative," he added. "Trade creates jobs for the unemployed. When we negotiate for open markets, were providing new hope for the worlds poor. And when we promote open trade, we are promoting political freedom."
During last months summit, Mr. Bush assured Western Hemisphere leaders he would gain fast-track authority "before the end of the year." Yesterday, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged business leaders to help Mr. Bush keep that pledge.
"We ask you to redouble your efforts," Mr. Powell implored the council before the presidents speech. "Democracy and trade and free trade all go together. Its as simple as that."
Other senior administration officials have delivered similar messages privately over the past few weeks, private-sector sources said. But one lobbyist, who asked not to be identified, said business groups will not organize a full-fledged effort on fast track until the White House invests its own political capital into the battle.
* Carter Dougherty contributed to this report.


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