- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2007

The Bush administration and business groups joined in a lobbying effort yesterday to extend presidential trade authority past June.

“Trade promotion authority,” which obliges Congress to vote for or against trade deals without changes, is seen as critical to approval of trade agreements, such as one the administration is negotiating with South Korea this week in Washington, and multilateral trade negotiations, such as the stalled Doha round of World Trade Organization talks.

Mr. Bush has had the authority since he signed the Trade Act of 2002, and supporters say that authority has allowed the administration to make substantial progress in putting trade agreements into place, with more under negotiation.

Mr. Bush called on Congress to extend the authority in his annual economic report to Congress yesterday.

“This authority is essential to completing good trade agreements,” Mr. Bush wrote in the introduction to the report. “The Congress must renew it if we are to improve our competitiveness in the global economy.”

U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab pushed for extending the authority at a briefing sponsored by “Trade for America,” a new business, agriculture and trade association group formed to push for trade authority renewal.

Failure to renew the authority, Mrs. Schwab said, “would signal to the world that the United States has lost faith in Doha and we must not let that happen.”

She also cited signs that “protectionism and isolationism” are on the rise and said the U.S. “must not be part of that trend.”

Leslie Griffin, a vice president at New York Life Insurance Co. and a co-chairman of the new group, said U.S. prosperity depends on trade and that renewal of the negotiating authority is “paramount to ensuring future trade growth.”

Statements supporting renewal also were issued yesterday by companies and groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Retail Federation, U.S. Council for International Business, Retail Industry Leaders Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Foreign Trade Council, National Association of Manufacturers, Coalition of Service Industries, American Forest & Paper Association, American Chemistry Council, American Apparel & Footwear Association, Grocery Manufacturers/FoodProducts Association, and the Business Roundtable.

Meanwhile, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat, said the administration must change its trade policies before trade promotion authority (TPA) extension can be considered.

“The administration must demonstrate quickly that they will use present trade promotion authority well — in working with the new Congress to make necessary changes in free-trade agreements with Peru, Panama and Colombia, in negotiations with Korea, and in our bilateral trading relationships with China, Japan and other nations,” he said.

The administration, Mr. Levin said, should insist that South Korea end practices that keep U.S. autos and auto parts out of South Korea and said the administration should modify pending agreements with Peru, Panama and Colombia to incorporate enforceable international labor standards.

Democrats have pushed for stronger labor and environmental provisions in trade agreements.

“Basic standards like a ban on child labor, a ban on forced labor, anti-discrimination and the right of workers to associate and bargain collectively,” are needed, Mr. Levin said.

He also said there must be collaboration with Congress on WTO negotiations, calling for progress in such areas as agriculture, tariffs, nontariff barriers and services trade.

“The administration’s policy has been far too passive in enforcing trade agreements, in breaking down unfair barriers to U.S. products and in establishing rules that raise standards of living in the U.S. and around the globe,” he said.

The administration is trying to make significant progress this week to reach a free-trade deal with South Korea by the end of March so it can submit the deal in time for consideration before TPA expires at the end of June.

The two sides, Mrs. Schwab said, could make “significant progress this week, which could get us within touching distance of a final FTA, or perhaps we won’t end up being that close at the end of this week.”

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