TPA May, Or May Not, Finally Be On Its Way

By John S. McClenahen The only certain thing about Congressional action on the fast-track trade promotion authority (TPA) the White House wants is that the votes will not mirror the overwhelming 88 to 12 margin by which the Senate approved normal U.S. trade relations with Vietnam on Oct. 3. There's talk on Capitol Hill of the House of Representatives voting as early as next week on restoring TPA, the presidential authority to negotiate U.S. trade agreements with other countries and then send them to Congress for approval or disapproval without amendments. The White House has been without such authority since 1994. The Bush Administration argues that TPA is essential to advancing work of a Free Trade Area of the Americas and making the U.S. a major player in a new round of global trade negotiations that could be launched at the World Trade Organization's Nov. 9-13 meeting in Doha, Qatar. In Washington, the legislative focus now is on a measure crafted under the direction of Rep. William M. (Bill) Thomas (R, Calif.), chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee. Applying to trade agreements the U.S. enters into by June 1, 2005, the legislation would, among other things, pressure other countries to enforce their environmental-protection laws and labor standards. "This is a monumental compromise that for the first time includes enforceable labor and environmental standards in a trade-promotion-authority plan," contends Rep. Cal Dooley (D, Calif.), one of several Democrats who have been working with Thomas on a bipartisan bill for several months. But two politically powerful environmental groups aren't buying that characterization. "The Thomas fast-track bill is bad for America's environment," asserts Carl Pope, executive director of the San Francisco-based Sierra Club. "It would expand investor rules that can undercut our environmental laws, deprive Congress of an effective role in trade policy-making, and raise false hopes of environmental progress." The legislation "does not represent consensus and does not provide adequate environmental safeguards," says Paul Joffe, director of international affairs at the National Wildlife Federation, Reston, Va.

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