WASHINGTON - US President George W. Bush and his administration will press Congress this month for special "trade promotion authority" powers to negotiate within the World Trade Organization (WTO).
"We need a partnership with Congress to get the best possible deal for US farm products, goods and services," US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick urged here Friday during a trade forum organized by the conservative Heritage Foundation.
He was preaching to a friendly crowd, addressing Republicans who are expected to back the president's request. But Zoellick said more must be done to overcome the failure of the last round of WTO discussions in Seattle in late 1999, ahead of talks slated for mid-November in Doha, Qatar.
"We have less than 20 weeks before Doha and to reverse the political and economic impact of Seattle," Zoellick said.
"If Congress stalls, others will take the lead and the US will fall behind," he warned. "Our fear should not be that the pace of economic liberalization is too fast but that it is too slow."
Zoellick said the administration would be mobilizing in mid-July to persuade Congress to back the so-called trade promotion authority -- formerly known as "fast track" authority -- which allows the president to negotiate free-trade agreements and submit them for a yes or no vote to Congress without amendment.
Lawmakers are currently reviewing two bills concerning trade promotion authority: one introduced by Republican Representative Phil Crane of Illinois and another co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida and Republican Frank Murkowski of Alaska.
According to Democratic Representative Cal Dooley of California, who has been known to cross party lines, Crane's bill will be useful in that it will reveal the dividing lines on the issue.
Speaking at the trade forum last week along with Zoellick, Dooley insisted that "Republicans have a duty to negotiate among themselves to deliver at least 175 votes" so that trade promotion authority can be approved by the House of Representatives.
And he estimates that at least 43 Democrats are likely to vote in favor of the special authority.
"It is in the House that there is the strongest opposition to trade," Dooley said, predicting that the chances of reaching an agreement would be greater in the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority.
Copyright © 2001 AFP