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House Approves Curbs on Imports : Omnibus Trade Bill Would Mandate Retaliation Against Foreign Rivals

May 23, 1986|OSWALD JOHNSTON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The House, again brushing aside Administration warnings of a global trade war, Thursday overwhelmingly passed an omnibus trade bill that would restrain imports and mandate trade retaliation against certain foreign competitors.

The final vote was 295 to 115, and the majority--enough to override a veto--included 59 Republicans from Rust Belt and textile states fearful of election year fallout. Confident that trade will be a sure-fire political issue in November, the Democratic leadership that produced the bill attracted almost unanimous partisan support, with only four Democrats opposed.

President Reagan, anticipating the bill's passage, which became certain after a series of Republican attempts to weaken the bill fell to lopsided votes Wednesday, warned that the Democrats' "anti-trade bill, that is openly and rankly political . . . would plunge the world in a trade war, eroding our relations with our allies and free-world trading partners."

Scored as Protectionist

For weeks, Reagan and top Administration officials have denounced the House bill as protectionist. It aims at shrinking imports from foreign competitors by imposing punitive tariffs on countries that have "excessive trade surpluses"--such as Japan, Taiwan and West Germany--that fail to reduce exports to the United States by 10% a year.

The massive 450-page bill, which contains 239 provisions, also would ease export controls and strengthen laws prohibiting piracy of U.S. products. It would authorize the President to conduct new international trade negotiations and attempt to stabilize international currency exchanges.

And it would mandate retaliation against Third World exporters whose manufacturers do not conform to wage-and-hour labor standards advocated by U.S. industrial unions and make trade retaliation mandatory as soon as injury from import competition is proved before the International Trade Commission.

International Obligations

Some of these provisions would violate U.S. obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, Administration officials have warned.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes told reporters that the House bill, if unchanged in the Senate, would be "an A-1 candidate for a veto."

'Bipartisan' Passage

But House Majority Leader Jim Wright of Texas claimed that the bill's final passage was "bipartisan" and called on the Republican-controlled Senate to "act quickly, to stop this tidal drift of jobs overseas."

The Senate has begun hearings on a bill aimed at pushing the Administration toward a tougher line against foreign competitors that have large trade surpluses with the United States.

That package, primarily the work of Sens. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.) and Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) contains provisions similar to the House bill that would force Reagan to retaliate against some trading partners and mandate a tough bargaining position in such areas as opening Japan to American products.

'Viewed With Alarm'

But the Senate bill does not contain some of the provisions in the House bill that the Administration and Republican leaders in Congress do not like.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) told reporters that the House bill is "viewed with alarm" in his chamber. Nevertheless, the Senate is believed likely to pass some kind of trade bill by September, leaving a crucial House-Senate conference as the key to whether Reagan will veto the measure.

Several Republican-led attempts to delete parts of the bill failed in a series of lopsided votes Wednesday, with sizable numbers of industrial-state Republicans--ranging from 44 to 98--defecting and voting with the majority.

In a last-ditch attempt to present a trade package that Reagan might be able to sign into law, the GOP leadership managed to hold all but 28 Republicans in line to support their substitute, offered by Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.).

Near Unanimous Opposition

But the Democrats were virtually unanimous in opposition, and the Michel substitute failed, 265 to 145, with only one Democrat breaking ranks.

Throughout all of these tests, Republicans representing export-conscious farm states have held firm with GOP-led attempts to limit the protectionist elements in the bill, fearing that they would provoke retaliation against agricultural exports. Except for Rep. Charles Pashayan Jr. of Fresno, California's Republicans voted solidly with the GOP leadership on every key attempt to limit the bill's protectionist impact.

Warning of 'Dark Day'

"If you think farmers have it bad today, just wait until they see what it would be like under protectionist trade laws that we have in this Congress," Michel warned as the bill neared pas1935763301warned that the historic moment that the Democratic leadership was claiming for its own would prove "a dark day" in the United States.

Nevertheless, House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) declared in a prepared statement to reporters that "Congress has sent a historic message: that the people of the United States will no longer stand by and watch American industry be replaced by foreign industry."

However, if the House bill were to become law intact, hinted Roy Denman, the chief Washington representative of the European Common Market, agriculture might indeed be the first arena of retaliation.

Other countries "might be tempted to take counteraction on U.S. exports," he said.

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