- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

The Senate yesterday abruptly restricted the scope of legislation that would empower President Bush to negotiate new trade agreements, dealing the White House a major legislative setback.
Ignoring a veto threat from the Bush administration, a large group of Republicans joined nearly all Democrats in curtailing Mr. Bush's freedom to promise changes to trade laws allowing various types of import curbs.
The amendment to a bill granting Mr. Bush "fast track" trade-negotiating authority survived a vote to kill it by 68-31, before passing unanimously on a voice vote. Fast track would allow the Bush administration to strike trade agreements and submit them to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments.
"While we support [fast track], we are not at all happy about where we are and where we need to get," said Sen. Larry E. Craig, an Idaho Republican who sponsored the amendment with Sen. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Democrat.
Fast track creates a procedure for approving trade agreements quickly and without changes, but the Dayton-Craig amendment would effectively suspend those procedures for any changes to U.S. laws that allow various types of import curbs.
By allowing a single senator to raise a "point of order" against changes to trade laws, it creates a major hurdle to keeping intact any changes that U.S. negotiators might promise to make in this area.
The Senate vote came only a few hours after the Bush administration threatened to veto the legislation. U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick and other Cabinet officials wrote a letter to the Senate arguing that the Dayton-Craig measure would "kill the bill's underlying purpose of authorizing the negotiation of new trade agreements subject to Congress' approval."
Following the Senate vote, Mr. Zoellick called the measure "protectionism under a procedural cover" and vowed to ensure it is excluded from the final bill hammered out in Congress.
Fast track is crucial to the Bush administration's goal of creating a free-trade zone stretching from Canada to Argentina, and for new negotiations on promoting global commerce in the World Trade Organization. The House passed it by one vote in December, and observers had expected the Senate to smoothly follow suit.
Though the amendment deals with an arcane area of trade policy, known as "trade remedy laws," the change to the legislation has potentially damaging implications for Mr. Bush's trade agenda.
Trade remedy laws include measures to slap tariffs on goods that are "dumped" in the American market at prices below the cost of production, or that are sold by companies that receive foreign government subsidies. They also cover temporary import restrictions of the sort that Mr. Bush used earlier this year to penalize foreign steel shipments.
Other countries have grown angry with the increasingly liberal use of these laws in the United States, particularly against steel imports, and demanded that changes to them be on the agenda of future trade talks. Mr. Zoellick agreed to discuss the issue at the November meeting of the WTO in Doha, Qatar.
But Mr. Zoellick's move prompted a backlash among senators, a majority of whom advised against this step before the Doha meeting.
"While our country's future trade policies are debatable, the right of Congress to participate actively in setting these policies is not," Mr. Dayton said.
When Mr. Craig and Mr. Dayton proposed the amendment, the Bush administration pulled out all the stops to defeat the measure. Mr. Zoellick last week said it would prompt other countries to refuse negotiations in their own key areas, especially agriculture.
But the underlying support for trade laws in the Senate, combined with the bipartisan sponsorship, led 16 Republicans and 45 Democrats to defeat attempts to kill the amendment.


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