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End Nears for Era of Presidential Trade Authority

By Peter S. Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 30, 2007

Barring a late-hour change of heart by Democrats on Capitol Hill, President Bush tonight will lose his authority to negotiate new trade deals, the latest sign that a decades-old American campaign to expand world commerce is foundering in the face of public unease.

Congressional leaders yesterday said they would deny the president's request for an extension of his so-called fast-track authority -- the right to ink trade deals and submit them to Congress for a simple up-or-down vote without amendments. The administration warned that without this power, its pursuit of new trade pacts would be hamstrung, jeopardizing American jobs linked to exports.

But labor groups and Democrats in Congress countered that too many American jobs have been shed already as trade pacts have made it easier for companies to shift work to Asia and Latin America.

Analysts cast the demise of the president's trade powers as a sign of deepening public anxiety over American fortunes being increasingly tied to the world economy.

"There's a foundational shift," said Colin I. Bradford, a former chief economist at the U.S. Agency for International Development and now a fellow at the Brookings Institution. "There's a deep and broad reaction by leaders around the world that while trade and globalization may be good, if I can't protect my constituents against job losses, income losses and the demise of industries, at some point, you've got to draw the line. You can't just let market forces run roughshod over every social concern."

The Bush administration and business groups yesterday continued to lobby for an extension of its trade power, which expires at midnight tonight, arguing that American prosperity is intertwined with the global economy, requiring an aggressive pursuit of new markets.

"America needs to remain open for business to the 95 percent of the world's consumers living outside the United States," U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab said in a written statement. Schwab added that American exports to the 10 countries with which the Bush administration has struck trade deals since 2001 have grown at almost double the rate of other exports.

By not extending fast track, Congress is "locking the door and throwing away the key to any future trade agreements," said John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. He said 5 million American jobs are linked to manufacturing exports.

Labor groups cheered the impending end of the president's authority, arguing that Bush and his predecessor, President Clinton, abused their powers to avoid congressional scrutiny by striking deals that have been good for corporate balance sheets and bad for almost everyone else.

"Denying domestic manufacturers, farmers, service providers, and their employees a real influence with their legislators has produced disastrous results," declared Kevin L. Kearns, president of the U.S. Business and Industry Council, a trade group representing small businesses and a critic of trade deals. He accused "footloose multinational companies" of exploiting trade policy as "a blueprint for supplying the U.S. market from penny-wage, regulation-free foreign production sites like Mexico and China."

The Democrats' decision to withhold new fast-track authority underscored the increasingly long odds against a successful conclusion to the Doha round of trade negotiations, a worldwide dialogue launched in 2001 and focused on lowering tariffs globally to spread the benefits of trade to poor countries.

The United States and Europe have balked at lowering agricultural subsidies in past years. Last week, a meeting in Potsdam, Germany, ended in failure as Brazil and India refused to open their markets to foreign manufactured goods, provoking a rebuke from Schwab.

Democratic leaders have said they would consider extending the president's authority for the purposes of completing the Doha talks. With seemingly little life left in those negotiations, though, they declined to hand an unpopular president from the other party new trade powers.

"Before that debate can even begin, we must expand the benefits of globalization to all Americans," declared House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a written statement released jointly with Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.); Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.); and Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs a trade subcommittee.

In recent months, the Bush administration has rushed to make use of its remaining fast-track authority, completing four trade deals that still must be approved by Congress.

Deals with Peru and Panama are expected to gain congressional passage in coming months, after an agreement was reached between the administration and Democratic leaders to include beefed-up labor standards in the deals. But the fates of two other pacts -- one with South Korea, the other with Colombia -- are far less certain.

The administration plans to sign the Korea deal today. Democrats and labor groups have assailed it, asserting that it allows Korea to continue to shut its market to U.S.-made cars and beef. In their statement, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders said they would not support the Korea deal without a renegotiation.

The Colombia deal may be even more contentious, as labor leaders in that country are frequently killed. The Democrats said they are not satisfied that Colombia's government, which is linked to right-wing paramilitary squads, is making a serious effort to protect labor leaders.

"There is widespread concern in Congress about the level of violence in Colombia, the impunity, the lack of investigations and prosecutions, and the role of the paramilitary," Pelosi and the other leaders declared, adding that they "cannot support" the Colombia trade deal "at this time."

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