August 2, 2002
President granted authority on trade
Senate vote allows Bush to negotiate foreign deals
By FINLAY LEWIS
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – The Senate gave final approval yesterday to
legislation freeing President Bush's hand to negotiate trade deals
that he says are vital to bringing new strength to the U.S.
The move also sets in motion a series of negotiations that are
likely to result in trade deals with Chile and Singapore, and
possibly Central American nations, Australia, Morocco and
Both global and hemispheric trade talks can also now move
forward, though in the more distant future.
The 64-34 vote handed Bush a major legislative victory on an
issue that eluded President Clinton during his second term.
California's two Democratic senators canceled each other out,
with Sen. Dianne Feinstein voting for the trade bill and Sen.
Barbara Boxer opposing it.
The House, more closely divided along partisan lines, approved
the bill early Saturday morning by only three votes.
Under the trade promotion authority, fo rmerly known as the
fast-track process, Bush can negotiate trade deals that Congress
can approve or reject but not amend.
Foreign governments are leery of negotiating politically
sensitive trade issues with the potential that U.S. lawmakers
might embarrass them by insisting on concessions and
renegotiations in search of a better deal for their constituents.
With lawmakers going on a monthlong summer recess, the
breakthrough comes as the Bush administration is trying to
regain its political footing amid struggles with a sinking stock
market, corporate scandals and a battle over the president's
homeland security bill.
Bush called yesterday's vote "a major victory on behalf of
working Americans," even though the bill was adamantly
opposed by organized labor. He vowed to "open markets to
create high-paying jobs and provide new opportunities for
America's farmers and workers."
Working with free-trade-minded Senate Democrats, the Bush
administration built a successful coalition behind the bill by
including provisions expanding job-training benefits and
providing subsidized health insurance for U.S. workers who lose
their jobs because of foreign competition.
Along the way, the administration and its allies had to fight
pitched battles over a number of sensitive issues, including
protecting the U.S. textile industry, the country's fair trade laws
and environmental and labor rights.
William Lane, a lobbyist for Caterpillar and its San Diego
subsidiary, Solar Turbines, said the measure opens the door to
eliminating the 10 percent tariffs imposed by many countries on
exports by the two companies, mainly engines and construction
Richard Feinberg, an expert on Western Hemisphere affairs at
University of California San Diego, said the vote increases the
possibility of a hemispherewide trade pact that could have
enormous economic and political benefits for California.
He said such an agreement not only would increase trade and
investment, but in the long run it likely would forge "closer ties
with Latin America on a whole range of issues: immigration,
narcotics, environment, labor rights."
Critics said the bill could hurt manufacturing employees who
will be undercut by low-wage foreign workers. Others said they
were not convinced that foreign trading partners would adhere
to environmental standards.
Organized labor and its allies in the environmental-and
consumer-protection movements are now likely to shift their
focus to defeating lawmakers in the November elections who
supported the trade bill.
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch and
an ally of labor on the trade issue, voiced outrage at the vote.
Noting last week's enactment of legislation cracking down on
corporate misdeeds, she assailed the bill's supporters for
"approving corporate deregulation across the board on a global
Trade experts cautioned that congressional action on the bill
represents a procedural step and that the hard work of
negotiating what are often politically contentious trade deals lies
in the future.
"It has taken us 20 yards down the field," said Robert Hormats,
vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International. "We have
another 80 to go."
Experts say U.S. negotiators may confront a residue of ill will
stemming from administration decisions to hike U.S. steel tariffs
and to sign a bill that dramatically increases U.S. farm subsidies.
Both measures stirred resentment abroad, with many
governments denouncing them as protectionist.
Every president since Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s has had this
authority, and Clinton used it to win congressional approval of
NAFTA in 1993 and a global trade deal a year later that
established the World Trade Organization.
The authority then lapsed, and Clinton failed to win its renewal
in the face of a rebellion by fellow Democrats in the House who
demanded that future agreements provide greater protections
for worker rights and environmental protection.
Such issues will almost certainly resurface when Congress is
asked to approve fully negotiated trade deals. Under such
circumstances, former Clinton U.S. Trade Representative
Mickey Kantor said his successor, Bob Zoellick, must consult
closely with the Congress.
"Congress has to be assured that you will enforce these
agreements and enforce our trade laws if they are going to take
the next step toward new market-opening agreements," Kantor