Wed 18 Oct 2006
Bush’s trade authority renewal: dead on arrival?
By Missy Ryan
WASHINGTON, Oct 18 (Reuters) — If Democrats win control of Congress in November elections, the Bush administration is highly unlikely to win renewal of trade negotiating powers that expire in 2007, congressional aides and former lawmakers said on Wednesday.
If the Nov. 7 congressional elections give Democrats a majority as some polls suggest, "there’s not a chance in hell that (trade promotion authority) would pass in 2007 or 2008," said former Democratic Rep. Tom Downey.
Trade promotion authority, known as fast track, transfers the power to broker trade deals from Congress to the executive branch. Once a deal is signed, Congress then votes on it in its entirety.
But the authority, a tough sell in Congress in the past, expires in July 2007. That deadline is one reason why many believe President Bush’s trade agenda may be in deep freeze.
Another reason is a standstill on the Doha Round of world trade talks, which were suspended in July because negotiators couldn’t move beyond a deadlock on farm trade.
Officials in Washington insist they’re trying to get talks back on track. But with elections and fast track’s expiration looming, many trade watchers believe the window to clinch a Doha deal may have already passed.
"If Democrats pick up four to five seats in the Senate, and take control of the House, with this president, I don’t see any trade agreements" for the next few years, said Robert Packwood, former chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
Packwood and other current and former officials said the administration needed to consult more closely with Congress to make a delicate relationship work.
Democrats have also criticized the administration because they feel their desires have not been heard on including more labor and environmental protection into trade deals.
A PERENNIAL CONTROVERSY
Renewing fast-track would likely be a thorny issue even without an expected change in congressional leadership. Fast-track lapsed between 1994 and 2002 and was renewed in 2002 only after acid debate.
For now, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is circumspect on fast track and hasn’t said if the Bush administration will petition Congress for renewal next year.
"Ideally, a president should have trade promotion authority, but no decisions have been made," said USTR spokesman Stephen Norton.
"We’re certainly not going to take it for granted that there will be an extension," he added.
For either party, "it’s hard to make a political case for fast-track," said Grant Aldonas, a business expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.