- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab said trade is spurring U.S. economic growth as she defended President Bush’s trade priorities, such as extension of his trade negotiating authority, to the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday.

She painted an upbeat picture of the economy, highlighting benefits she said came from trade, including booming exports last year, high-paying jobs and increased American incomes raised by trade liberalization since World War II.

Mrs. Schwab testified the day after record trade-deficit figures were released, with imports pushing last year’s deficit to $763.6 billion, despite growing exports.

Ninety percent of the increase in the trade deficit resulted from higher prices for petroleum imports, she said.

House Ways and Means trade subcommittee Chairman Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat, however, cited both the overall trade deficit and the $232.5 billion deficit with China — the largest ever recorded with a nation — saying, “imports matter and they have an impact.”

After the hearing, he pointed out that the U.S. trade deficit rose with both China and Japan, neither of which supply oil to the United States.

Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, said the panel was willing to meet with the administration informally on trade issues.

He described recent trade thinking as “polarized,” adding that “the Chamber of Commerce has never seen a trade agreement they didn’t like, and labor hasn’t seen one they did like.”

He said he was “pleased” by Mrs. Schwab’s leadership and the administration’s intent “to demonstrate to the American people that yes, there is pain with progress, but our country isn’t just concerned with agreements for the businesses who are already winning.

“We need to show that we are also concerned about businesses and workers that are having a hard time and that we are working together to help all American workers, farmers and businesses maintain a competitive edge and benefit from trade,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney, addressing a National Association of Manufacturers meeting, called on Congress to extend the president’s trade promotion authority, which allows him to negotiate free-trade agreements without Congress making changes, and said the administration is committed to completing the Doha round of World Trade Organization talks.

He told the gathering getting trade promotion authority extended would be a “tough fight” and would need “help on Capitol Hill.”

“And these trade issues have gotten to be very, very difficult,” he said.

“The Central American free-trade agreement that we passed here a year or two ago was, frankly, one of the toughest votes I’ve been involved in, in the last six years. It was root, hog or die for every single one of those votes.”

That agreement was passed by one vote, after midnight.

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