Trade negotiating power likely to be extended, USTR says

US Embassy in Japan | 8 December 2004

Trade Negotiating Power Likely to Be Extended, USTR Says

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick predicts that Congress will allow a two-year extension of President Bush’s trade negotiating authority to go forward, giving more time to conclude World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations as well as bilateral and regional negotiations.

In December 7 remarks in Paris, Zoellick also mentioned the likelihood of a 2005 vote in Congress on whether the United States should remain a member of the WTO, but he offered no prediction on that issue.

The law granting the president trade promotion authority (TPA), otherwise known as fast track, is set to expire mid-2005 but can be extended two years upon the president’s request unless either the House of Representatives or Senate votes against extension.

Under TPA, Congress restricts itself only to approve or reject a negotiated trade agreement, within strict time limits and without amendments. In the next session of Congress, the Republican leadership of the House and Senate could effectively block a vote from occurring to reject extension.

"He gets the authority for another two years unless either house of Congress blocks it, OK?" Zoellick said. "That will be, no doubt, a challenge, but one that I believe that we will succeed in."

On the other hand, a WTO membership vote has what is called a privileged position — once every five years, if any member of the House or Senate wants the vote to occur, then the leaders must schedule it. Zoellick recalled that such a vote, conducted in the House in 2000, attracted little support.

On the ongoing WTO negotiations, formally called the Doha Development Agenda, Zoellick said he has been consulting with major participating countries to sustain in 2005 the momentum that has been achieved in 2004.

"I think the goal would be to try to get this done in a 2005-2006 timeframe," he said, "but a lot of things have to come together to make that successful."

On another issue, Zoellick sidestepped direct answers to questions about U.S. exchange rate policy, but he did say that the United States and the European Union (EU), which both have free-floating exchange rates, have a mutual interest in persuading countries that have a fixed rate, such as China, to move toward a flexible system.

Zoellick also commented on the U.S. dispute with the EU over Airbus subsidies and about his scheduled trip to West Africa, which began December 8.

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