- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun yesterday discussed the free-trade agreement being negotiated by their countries as talks entered their final stage.

The two sides must reach agreement by tomorrow for Congress to ratify it before Mr. Bush’s fast-track trade promotion authority expires.

The leaders reportedly discussed issues including automobiles, farm trade and textiles in a 20-minute phone conversation.

As the trade negotiations intensified, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and three other key House Democrats wrote to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab on Wednesday to express concern about “the lack of progress on automotive sector issues, and very importantly, our belief that the proposal [Mrs. Schwab] is prepared to put forward is completely inadequate in the face of Korea’s long-standing iron curtain to American manufactured products.”

In the letter, released yesterday, Mrs. Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel of New York, and Ways and Means subcommittee on trade Chairman Sander M. Levin of Michigan pointed out that South Korean manufacturers sold 700,000 vehicles in this country last year, while U.S. automakers sold only 4,000 in South Korea.

“We need a new approach, not more of the same written commitments that have failed to tear down the present non-tariff barriers and prevent future ones from blocking U.S. products,” they said, adding that the talks “need a significant course correction.”

They called for a “basic policy that stands up for U.S. businesses and workers in the global marketplace” and said they were “confident that if there is a change of course in present negotiations to reach this goal, we will be re-establishing a bipartisan foundation for trade.”

Sean Spicer, spokesman for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said the Bush administration would not close a deal with South Korea “that does not provide for comprehensive market access for U.S. businesses, which has to include the automotive sector.”

In a separate letter, more than 700 labor, environmental, farm and other groups yesterday urged congressional leaders not to renew the president’s trade promotion authority, which entitles trade agreements to an up-or-down vote in Congress, without amendments.

The groups asked Mrs. Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, not to bring legislation renewing fast-track authority to the floor.

Signers comprised the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Communications Workers of America; environmental groups including Greenpeace USA. and Friends of the Earth; and other groups including Americans for Democratic Action, the National Council of Churches USA. and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

The groups criticized trade promotion authority as burdening the United States with “destructive and widely unpopular trade agreements” such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, and said it cedes congressional power to regulate foreign commerce.

There is no way to “fix” trade promotion authority, they said, adding that Congress needs a new mechanism to authorize trade negotiations that “gives Congress a steering wheel and, when necessary, a brake, on the negotiation process.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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