Trade Promotion Authority Fight Heats Up In U.S. Congress

By Agence France-Presse Commerce Secretary Don Evans on April 16 joined Senate Republicans to press Democratic lawmakers over the stalled Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), arguing that the United States was missing economic opportunities. "I tell you what, the American people are tired of waiting," Evans told reporters. "They know how important [TPA] is. The whole world is moving past us. Of the 133 free trade agreements [globally] we are party to three of them." TPA is seen by the administration as a pivotal step toward cutting important trade deals and boosting the U.S. economy, and President George W. Bush has stepped into the fray repeatedly to push for its passage. "I need that authority," he said earlier in the month, insisting the Senate move by April 22 to grant him broad trade negotiating powers as well as renew trade preferences with Andean nations. The Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA), which expired late last year and was temporarily extended, is due to expire again May 15. "We need that legislation and we need it now," Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said, speaking at the same press conference as Evans. Democrats are insisting that any move on TPA be matched with votes on a robust Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA): help for retraining for U.S. workers who would be displaced future trade deals. Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Tom Daschle has said he wants to bring TPA, TAA and ATPA legislation to the Senate floor as a group, a move Republicans oppose. "We need greater flexibility on both sides of the aisle," said Senator Chuck Grassley. "If Republicans insist on ignoring the issue of health care in Trade Adjustment Assistance, then there will be no Trade Promotion Authority. And if Democrats insist on providing [conditioned] health care . . . there will be no Trade Adjustment Assistance. So nobody wins," he said. White House administrations have been fighting for the right to freely negotiate international trade deals since the measure, then known as fast track, expired in 1994. Opponents of the bill believe it cuts the Senate out of the negotiating loop and provides too much power to the president. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2002

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