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Approval of Chile, Singapore Trade Pacts Nears

Lawmaker Anticipates Approval of Chile, Singapore Trade Pacts

(Rep. Crane says implementing legislation may be passed by August)

By Berta Gomez Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- A key Republican lawmaker says he believes Congress will act quickly to pass legislation implementing U.S. free trade agreements (FTAs) with Chile and Singapore.

During a June 10 hearing on implementation of the Singapore and Chile trade pacts, Representative Phil Crane, chairman of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, said he looked forward to speedy passage of the implementing legislation, possibly before Congress leaves Washington for its traditional August recess.

The Chile and Singapore FTAs are the first trade agreements considered by Congress under procedures outlined in Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation signed into law by President Bush in August 2002.

Testifying before the subcommittee, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier said the agreements are "the most comprehensive and up-to-date trade agreements the United States has concluded" and command "widespread support" in the private sector.

He said the new agreements would add momentum to other U.S. trade liberalization efforts, including negotiations for a Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

President Bush and Singaporean Prime Minister Chok Tong Goh signed the U.S.-Singapore FTA on May 6 at the White House; U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Chilean Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear signed the U.S.-Chile FTA on June 6 in Miami.

Most of the Ways and Means subcommittee members expressed support for the Chile and Singapore agreements and there were no statements of opposition to the concluded pacts. Some lawmakers, however, focused on current trade negotiations with Central American countries and argued that provisions in the Chile and Singapore agreements might not be appropriate for countries at less advanced stages of development.

Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the subcommittee, said, for example, the labor standards in the U.S.-Chile FTA could not adequately address the labor situation in Central America. Another Democrat, Richard Neal of Massachusetts, also expressed concern over a recent U.N. International Labor Organization (ILO) report citing Guatemala and El Salvador for failing to enforce basic labor standards.

Allgeier emphasized that future trade deals would not be "copies" of existing pacts and that negotiations tend to focus on issues that are pertinent to the countries involved. He said U.S. negotiators are aware that labor markets in Central America differ markedly from those in Chile and Singapore and have made clear to their Central American counterparts that labor will be one of the issues addressed during the CAFTA negotiations.

Allgeier added that the governments of both El Salvador and Guatemala had taken action recently to push their labor laws into line with international standards.

In addition to the CAFTA negotiations, the United States has launched FTA talks with Australia, Morocco and the South African Customs Union (SACU) and intends to begin FTA talks with Bahrain early in 2004.

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