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Senate Committee Votes to Reauthorize Andean Trade Accord: Campaign to pass trade negotiating bill picks up

Bruce Odessey and Berta Gomez

The Senate Finance Committee has voted to extend and expand an expiring U.S. preferential trade program for Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, but included a provision limiting duty-free tuna imports from the Andean region.

The committee approved its version of the Andean bill on a voice vote November 29. Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee, said he hoped to bring the Andean trade bill to the Senate floor "later this year or early next year."

The House of Representatives voted earlier in November to reauthorize the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA) through 2005, but its version has no tuna limits.

To become law a final will would have to be passed by the Senate and House and signed by the president.

With existing Andean trade preferences scheduled to expire the first week of December, lawmakers have also added a streamlined six-month extension of the existing ATPA into the economic stimulus package the Senate is considering. The extension would give negotiators time to work out a compromise measure on tuna and other issues.

The amendment protecting U.S. tuna canners was offered by Louisiana Democrat John Breaux and approved by the committee 11-9. Breaux argued that Ecuador does not adhere to the same "dolphin-free" tuna harvest practices that U.S. fishing boats do. He said also he wanted to protect the jobs of tuna plant workers in California and America Samoa. The measure would limit duty-free treatment for Andean canned tuna to 20 percent of U.S. domestic production, according to Breaux's staff.

The bill would continue to provide duty-free status to 6,000 products from the Andean countries and end tariffs on footwear, petroleum and textile and apparel products.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives Republican leaders were stepping up their campaign to pass December 6 a contentious bill granting the president trade negotiating authority, variously called trade promotion authority (TPA) and fast track. Democratic opponents of the bill argue that Republicans still lack enough votes to pass it.

The Republican leaders' bill sponsored by Representative Bill Thomas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, will likely be amended to attract support from anxious members in districts with import-sensitive steel-, textile- and citrus-producing industries, Thomas said.

At a November 29 press conference Thomas said that the House Rules Committee, which crafts the rules for debate on bills in the House, was working out those amendments as well as others. He said the amendments could elaborate administration intent to enforce trade agreements.

He said members like himself from agricultural districts were getting weary of supporting trade negotiations and agreements without realizing many benefits. The World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar, has now bolstered the agenda for agricultural trade negotiations in a round scheduled to start in January and end in 2005, though, he said.

Opponents might argue that the president does not need TPA until the end of WTO negotiations in 2005, but he needs it as participants start shaping the negotiations in a few weeks, Thomas said.

"Time has run out," Thomas said. "The president and his negotiating team need TPA by January 2002."

He said that Republican leaders would not postpone the December 6 vote. He predicted the bill would pass.

Representative Dick Armey, Republican majority leader, said the president needs TPA as part of his campaign to promote freedom and security around the world. He indicated that opening markets through trade negotiations would improve job security for people around the world.

"The president can't be limited in this area," Armey said.

Under TPA, Congress restricts itself only to approve or reject a negotiated trade agreement, within strict time limits and without amendments. Since the previous grant expired early in 1994, attempts to reauthorize TPA have failed over labor and environmental issues.

Later November 29 a senior administration official, who asked not to be identified, said President Bush and many of his top advisers were working daily to raise House support for the Thomas bill, aiming to get commitments from "significant blocs" before the end of the week.

Besides attempting to help ease concerns of members from steel, textile and agricultural districts, he said, the administration was working to attract support more generally with some sort of legislation aimed at assisting displaced workers and their communities.

He said Secretary of State Colin Powell was making an argument with some House members that a defeat on TPA would harm President Bush's leadership ability in foreign affairs.

If the House passes the Thomas bill, the official said, the Senate would come under pressure to pass its own version quickly.

December 10, 2001

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