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House Passes Trade Authority Bill 215-214

House Passes Trade Negotiating Authority Bill 215-214

(Vote divides parties over labor, environment) (1160) By Bruce Odessey Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The House of Representatives has by the narrowest margin passed a bill supported by the Bush administration that would give the president authority to negotiate trade agreements into 2005.

By a 215-214 vote December 6 House members accepted the bill for trade promotion authority (TPA), otherwise known as fast track, divided over the same labor and environmental issues that have divided Congress for nearly a decade.

Only 21 Democrats voted for the bill, only 23 Republicans against it.

"Trade Promotion Authority is a key part of our trade agenda," President Bush said in a statement issued after the vote. "It will help us pursue and complete trade agreements, including the global trade negotiations launched last month in Doha, Qatar. By promoting open trade, we expand export markets and create high-paying jobs for Americans while providing opportunities for other nations as a result of free trade.

"Now that the House has acted, I urge the Senate to move quickly to send me a Trade Promotion Authority bill I can sign," Bush said.

Senator Max Baucus, Democratic chairman of the Finance Committee, said earlier in the week that he would schedule a meeting the week of December 10 to consider a Senate TPA bill if the House passed its version.

To become law a final bill would have to pass the House and Senate and be signed by the president. Senator Tom Daschle, Democratic majority leader, said the Senate would not consider any TPA bill until returning from recess early in 2002.

In a statement following the House vote, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the administration can now press ahead on the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

"We expect to finalize free trade agreements with Chile and Singapore next year," Zoellick said. "And we will continue to press globally, regionally, and with other nations to open additional markets for America.

"With passage of the Jordan and Vietnam agreements earlier this year, the completion of the accession of China and Taiwan into the WTO [World Trade Organization], and the recent launch of the global trade negotiations, the Bush administration has demonstrated a commitment to restoring U.S. leadership in trade liberalization," Zoellick added.

Republican leaders argued in the House debate that passing the TPA bill sponsored by Representative Bill Thomas, the Republican chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, was necessary to show that the United States has the capacity to lead in trade issues.

"This Congress will either support our president, who's fighting a courageous war on terrorism, redefining American leadership, or will undercut the president at the worst possible time," Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert said.

"If we vote down this legislation we send a terrible signal to the rest of the world," Hastert said. "We say to the world that the Congress will not trust the president to lead on trade. We say to the world that Congress is not interested in promoting trade."

Republicans argued that passing TPA was essential for U.S. participation in multilateral trade negotiations to open foreign markets for the benefits of U.S. exporters and thus long-term U.S. economic performance.

They said rejecting the Thomas bill would jeopardize U.S. trade leverage in the WTO negotiations launched just three weeks earlier in Doha, Qatar.

Most House Democrats said they would vote to pass TPA legislation only if it did not promote export of U.S. jobs to countries with lower wages and environmental standards.

Democratic leaders argued that promoting labor, environmental and human rights standards should have the same priority in trade negotiations as promoting patent and copyright protection and freer investment flows.

"If you care about getting wages up in countries abroad," said Representative Dick Gephardt, Democratic minority leader, "if you believe we have to build economies all over the world from the bottom up, so that people have enough money in their pockets to really buy things -- then you would agree with me that we need to have a little bit different trade policy."

Under TPA, Congress restricts itself only to approve or reject a negotiated trade agreement, within strict time limits and without amendments. Since the previous grant expired early in 1994, attempts to reauthorize TPA have failed over labor and environmental issues.

The bill would extend such treatment to cover legislation implementing trade agreements completed before June 2005 and allow a vote by Congress to extend TPA for two years after that.

Supporting the Thomas bill were most business groups, except for some import-sensitive industries such as citrus, textile and steel. Opposing the bill were labor and environmental groups.

Zoellick and other high-level Bush administration officials had lobbied House members intensively the week ahead of the vote. Zoellick argued that U.S. trading partners would not seriously negotiate with the United States in the WTO or the FTAA unless President Bush had TPA. He said he was already delaying free-trade negotiations with Chile and Singapore because of uncertainty about TPA.

Opponents argued that the Thomas TPA bill contains no meaningful standards on labor rights or environmental protection. They argued that the bill lacks language aimed at blocking foreign challenges of U.S. environmental, health and safety laws. And they argued that it gave Congress too little influence on trade negotiations; the Constitution delegates trade authority to Congress.

When the Republican-dominated House Rules Committee set the rules for consideration of TPA legislation by the full House late December 5, members voted along party lines to prevent a vote on Democrats' alternative TPA legislation.

The committee allowed Thomas to add an amendment to the bill with provisions aimed at adding support. One provision, for example, would require the administration to take extra steps before entering into negotiations on import-sensitive agriculture such as citrus and sugar.

Earlier in the day the House passed 420-3 a bill sponsored by Thomas that would extend and expand trade adjustment assistance (TAA) for workers, including new benefits for workers affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

That bill would spend some $2,000 million over the next two years to support and retrain workers, up from $400 million a year in such TAA spending now.

Some undecided Democrats asserted, however, that the package was still too small to move them to support the TPA bill.

The House failed to pass a bill that would have authorized more spending by the U.S. Customs Service. The bill would have authorized more spending for monitoring evasion of textile import quotas by transshipments, a provision aimed at drawing support from textile interests for TPA. But the vote came out 256-168, short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage under suspension of House rules.

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: NNNN

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