12 February 2007
Business begins push for fast track trade bill
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON — U.S. business groups began a campaign on Monday to persuade a skeptical Democratic-led Congress to approve at least a short-term extension of White House trade promotion authority to finish world trade talks.
At a joint press conference with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, business leaders said U.S. exporters risked losing sales to competitors in Asia and Europe if Congress does not renew the legislation when it expires on June 30.
"Timely renewal of TPA (trade promotion authority) is vital to U.S. trade leadership in expanding and opening markets to American firms, workers and farmers," Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, said in a statement.
Trade promotion authority allows the White House to negotiate trade agreements that Congress must approve or reject without making changes. It’s also known as fast track, because it requires to Congress to vote on trade agreements within 90 days of receiving them from the White House.
Business leaders said they wanted at least a one-year extension of trade promotion authority to allow the United States to finish negotiations on the Doha round of world trade talks and to conclude negotiations with South Korea and Malaysia on bilateral free trade agreements.
Many Democrats in Congress, especially the House of Representatives, voted against the current trade promotion bill when it was approved in 2002. The final version passed in the House by a vote of 215-212, with the support of 190 Republicans and only 25 Democrats after a bitter partisan battle.
Since then, the White House has used the legislation to win approval of trade deals with Australia, Singapore, Chile, Morocco, Dominican Republic and five Central American countries, Bahrain and Oman.
While some of those trade agreements passed with substantial bipartisan support, others — particularly the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement — were opposed by nearly all House Democrats.
Currently, Democrats are threatening to reject free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama unless the Bush administration includes stronger worker protection provisions than it has in previous trade pacts.
Democrats view those three agreements as "confidence building" measures for restoring trust between the White House and Congress on trade. Schwab has agreed to work with the top Democrat and Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee to try to fashion a more bipartisan approach to trade.