By John S. McClenahen Although the White House remains deliberately vague on the contents of a trade-related "toolbox" it might be comfortable using to protect the environment and improve labor standards, there is no question that obtaining special negotiating authority is the No. 1 item on the Bush Administration's 2001 trade agenda. Formerly known as "fast-track authority" and now dubbed "trade promotion authority" by the White House, it allows Congress to accept or reject -- but not amend - any trade deals the U.S. negotiates with other countries. Such presidential bargaining authority lapsed in 1994. Because most other nations won't negotiate seriously with the U.S. unless they're certain Congress won't rewrite the deals, the Bush Administration needs the measure to work out the details for a proposed Free Trade Area of the America's (FTAA), a $12 trillion Western Hemisphere free-trade zone extending, except for Cuba, from Alaska to Argentina. The White House also needs the authority to wrap-up pending bilateral trade agreements with Chile, Jordan, Vietnam, and Laos. It's not certain that Congress will renew special presidential negotiating authority this year. But U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick is making no secret of the urgency he believes exists. For example, the 15-nation European Union, a major U.S. competitor in world markets, has 27 special trade pacts with other countries and is negotiating 15 more, Zoellick's office reports. And it notes that Japan is negotiating a free trade agreement with Singapore and looking at possible agreements with Mexico, South Korea, and Chile.