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Bush Urges Quick Passage of Trade Package in Senate

Economy: Democrats want to link 'fast-track' authority with assistance for workers who lose jobs because of imports.

April 28, 2002|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush urged the Senate on Saturday to move swiftly to approve legislation that would expand his authority to negotiate international trade agreements.

In his weekly radio address, Bush said the trade promotion authority "would give me the flexibility to negotiate with other countries to open their markets and get the best deals for American producers and workers."

The president also signaled support in principle for providing help for U.S. workers who lose their jobs because of imports, an element that Senate Democrats say is crucial to winning passage of the legislative package. And Bush urged approval of separate legislation renewing preferential trade treatment for the Andean nations of Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.

With the Senate just beginning a delayed debate on the controversial trade measures, Bush presented them in the context of national security concerns and continued economic growth. The Andean measure in particular, he said, could help turn drug-producing communities toward legitimate economic activity.

The Senate debate is likely to go to the heart of the argument over how to open foreign markets to American goods and services while protecting the American market and jobs from competition from low-wage nations.

Bush said he favors providing funds to retrain workers who have lost jobs to overseas manufacturers, but the extent of such assistance is unresolved.

In his most recent speech on trade, to State Department workers on April 5, the president had been silent on the issue. The White House has wanted to handle the measure apart from the trade negotiation legislation.

Trade-displaced workers have received extended unemployment benefits, vocational training and other government assistance since 1962. The program expired late last year. In 2000, about 35,000 Americans received the aid.

Senate Democrats have said they are willing to approve the trade legislation by Memorial Day, but only if the aid, known as trade adjustment assistance, is included.

"I recognize that some American workers may face adjustment challenges as a result of trade," Bush said. "I support helping these workers by reauthorizing and improving trade adjustment assistance programs."

Anne Womack, a White House spokeswoman, said the president wanted the two issues--workers' aid and the trade negotiation authority--considered separately.

Because the argument over how to protect American workers from the economic threat posed by imports remains unresolved--as is the debate over the full benefits and risks of removing trade barriers--the Senate debate is likely to be highly charged. The House has passed the legislation.

The law that allowed the government to negotiate trade pacts that Congress could approve or reject, but not amend, expired in 1994. The measure lapsed shortly after completion of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico and the overhaul of global trade regulations that created the World Trade Organization.

President Clinton pushed for renewal of "fast-track" authority during his second term, and Bush has taken up the campaign.

Bush argued that in the 1990s, American exports were responsible for one-quarter of the nation's economic growth and that the global trade pact and NAFTA added up to $2,000 to the standard of living of an American family of four.

"Now is the time to build on this record of success," he said, calling on the Senate to pass the measure "without delay."

He said the failure to renew the trade negotiation authority, which was available to his most recent five predecessors, had led the United States to sacrifice its traditional leadership in trade.

Citing scant U.S. participation in a variety of global trade agreements, Bush said passage of the expanded authority "will give America's entrepreneurs and workers and farmers and ranchers a fair shot at the markets of the world."

It is a point he has made frequently in speeches, and one he tries to turn to a political advantage as he seeks support for Republican candidates in states with close Senate races.

Citing the overseas effect of trade pacts, the president said Saturday that the Andean Trade Preferences Act had given Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador such greater access to U.S. markets that over 10 years they had reported the creation of 140,000 jobs tied to the exports.

Bush said the legislation, reducing the barriers that exporters from the four countries face selling certain goods in the United States, also "helped provide an economic alternative to the production of drugs."

The president called for renewal of the measure before May 16, to avoid the imposition of import duties for at least 90 days. The House approved the renewal nearly five months ago. The Andean legislation expired in December, but Bush temporarily waived tariffs on imports from the countries until May 16.

"Every day we go without expanding trade is another day of missed opportunities to strengthen our economy," the president said.

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