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Dole Deals Blow to Clinton's Trade Powers : Congress: Senate majority leader opposes a grant of negotiating authority, which the Administration had hoped to use in NAFTA talks.

November 04, 1995|From Bloomberg Business News

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) dealt a serious blow to the Clinton Administration's trade policy by opposing an immediate grant of new trade negotiating authority by Congress.

Dole's opposition makes it unlikely such authority will be granted this year, Washington trade lobbyists said.

The Administration had hoped to win the negotiating authority for talks enabling Chile to join the North American Free Trade Agreement, and to give impetus to the upcoming summit meeting of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on a regional free trade arrangement.

However, Dole said the Administration is mistaken in trying to add worker and environmental protection clauses to the trade negotiating authority. "We must not burden our trading relationships with the agendas of any number of special interest groups," he said Friday in a speech on the Senate floor.

"I don't believe Congress should extend new fast-track negotiating authority until we've had an adequate cooling-off period following the two recent major trade agreements, and until there is no possibility the fast-track procedures can be abused," Dole said.

Besides NAFTA, Dole was referring to the Uruguay Round trade accord of 1993. Both were approved by Congress under fast track. The procedure is so named because it allows rapid consideration of trade agreements by Congress, with no amendments allowed.

Dole, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, faces a serious challenge from commentator Pat Buchanan--a bitter opponent of the Administration's free trade policies--in the New Hampshire primary in February.

The senator's political advisers have told him that he should not give President Clinton a political present by approving new trade negotiating authority, Washington trade lobbyists said.

Dole has generally supported liberal trade policies, and in his speech Friday he said the United States had a responsibility to work for an "open trading system."

But Dole attacked what he called a "haphazard rush to sign more trade deals with more countries as soon as possible."

Calman Cohen, vice president of the Emergency Committee for American Trade, which represents major multinational corporations in Washington, said the group is dismayed by the lack of progress on fast track.

"The failure to move forward with fast track is a disappointment to the business community, which believes we need to find a way to go forward with trade liberalization measures," Cohen said.

The Republican-dominated House Ways and Means Committee has approved fast-track legislation that lacks the labor rights and environmental protection language sought by the Administration.

Republicans and business groups said the special clauses could form a pretext for domestic groups that wanted to block open trade.

Though Administration officials have continued talks with House members on fast track, Dole's declaration appears to quash hopes that an agreement could be worked out in this session of Congress, trade lobbyists said.

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