- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

Congress yesterday sent the White House legislation that will grant the president power to submit trade pacts to Congress for a quick yes-or-no vote, effectively giving the president the authority to strike major trade deals for the first time in nearly a decade.
The legislation, approved in the Senate 64-34, will allow U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick to bring Congress long-delayed free-trade pacts with Chile and Singapore by early next year. It also will pave the way for a new global deal in the World Trade Organization, and a pact with all of Latin America, possibly before Mr. Bush's current term ends.
"I look forward to signing the bill soon, and I look forward to bringing some trade agreements back to the Congress that will help workers and farmers and ranchers," Mr. Bush said in a telephone call to key senators.
"Fast-track," as the trade authority is known, expired in 1994, and Congress refused to grant President Clinton the power in 1997 and 1998. Mr. Bush, a supporter of the North American Free Trade Agreement since his days as Texas governor, made its passage a high priority.
Under fast-track's procedures, lawmakers cannot amend the agreements that the president has signed and must vote on an accelerated schedule. This arrangement, under which Congress also has a consultative role in trade negotiations, greatly strengthens the president's hand in winning approval.
The Bush administration has argued for the past 18 months that it needed fast-track, which it dubbed "trade-promotion authority," to assert American leadership on trade. Without fast-track, countries generally are reluctant to conclude trade deals with the United States, fearing Congress will upset a pact's politically delicate compromises.
In addition to the deals with Chile and Singapore, Mr. Zoellick is laying the groundwork for agreements with Central America, southern Africa and Australia. The Bush administration also wants to create a 34-nation hemispheric deal, called the Free Trade Area of the Americas, by early 2005.
Fast-track should also strengthen the hand of the United States in global negotiations that have been under way since a November meeting of the World Trade Organization in Qatar. WTO members will gather in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003 to take stock of the talks, which are scheduled to end by Jan. 1, 2005.
"What [fast-track] does immediately is unblock a whole series of trade negotiations and restores U.S. negotiators to the forefront of talks," said Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow with the Institute for International Economics.
After bitter procedural battles, the House passed the bill last weekend 215-212.
"We can show the world that America will lead the way in building a new consensus on international trade," said Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, who heads the Senate Finance Committee.
Senate opponents of the legislation mounted a rhetorical attack against the fast-track bill but could do little to slow the its passage. Sen. Byron Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, who has been a persistent critic of U.S. trade policy since the Clinton administration, attributed the bill's passage to the influence of industry lobbyists.
"There'll be people in dark suits saying how wonderful this is for our country," he said.
John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation, echoed this criticism.
"Fast-track will further the loss of family-supporting jobs to nations where corporations routinely exploit child labor, workers' rights and the environment," he said.
Calman Cohen, president of the Emergency Committee for American Trade, a business group, said passage of fast-track would give the United States an opportunity to join in the growing number of free-trade agreements around the world.
"The United States has been treading water on trade issues for a long time," Mr. Cohen said. "We are positioned for the first time in years to swim the distance."
Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the bill's passage was good economic news in a year packed with dismal developments.
"It's not the answer to our economic problems, but it's a step," Mr. Donohue said.
In addition to fast-track, the bill also includes a major expansion of Trade Adjustment Assistance, a group of programs to assist workers who have lost their jobs as a result of free-trade deals. Under the roughly $1.2 billion a year TAA, workers can obtain job retraining and health care courtesy of the federal government.

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