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Chile, Singapore FTAs Begin Move Through Congress


Chile, Singapore Trade Agreements Begin Moving Through Congress

Swift approval by House, Senate seen likely

By Bruce Odessey
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Free trade agreements (FTAs) with Chile and Singapore are moving toward likely swift approval by Congress.

A day after the Bush administration formally submitted implementing legislation for the two agreements, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee July 16 formally approved by voice vote the provisions of the bills under its jurisdiction.

Approval by the House Ways and Means Committee and by the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees is considered likely in the following one to two days.

The two FTAs are the first considered by Congress since passage nearly a year ago of trade promotion authority (TPA), otherwise known as fast track. Under TPA, Congress restricts itself only to approve or reject a negotiated trade agreement, within strict time limits and without amendments.

After the president formally submits an agreement under TPA, Congress must act on it within 90 days. Both the House and Senate are expected to act much more swiftly than that on the Chile and Singapore FTAs, approving the implementing legislation possibly in July or August before taking their summer recess.

Three of the four relevant committees conducted informal meetings a week earlier to consider the administration's draft legislative proposals. The House Judiciary Committee meeting changed one provision of the bills concerning temporary U.S. visas for workers from Chile and Singapore.

The committee voted that the 5,400 immigrants from Singapore and 1,400 from Chile who would be eligible every year under the FTAs would be counted as part of the existing H1-B visa program quota, which restricts such visas to a total 195,000 annually. U.S. technology companies have used H1-B visas in the past to fill positions requiring high skill levels.

U.S. employers seeking H1-B visas for workers from Chile and Singapore would have to pay a $1,000 fee per worker and submit a statement attesting that the worker is not displacing a higher-paid U.S. worker.


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