The Senate, racing to clear away more than 60 amendments holding up passage of major trade legislation, yesterday knocked out a provision requiring the registration of foreign investment but left intact a customs rebate of $264 million to three large sugar refiners.
Working from 8 a.m. until after 7 p.m. yesterday, the Senate acted on 27 amendments. A vote on the final bill is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday after more than four weeks of debate. Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said he expects some of the 36 remaining amendments to be withdrawn before that.
The foreign registration requirement, defeated 83-11, was strongly opposed by the Reagan administration, which said its passage would undermine efforts by U.S. negotiators in global trade talks to break down barriers by other countries to foreign investment.
The same provision is in the House-passed bill, and its inclusion in the final legislation would have been virtually certain to draw a veto.
The payments to the sugar refiners, also opposed by the administration, was narrowly approved, 49-44.
The provision was pushed by Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.) and other sugar-state lawmakers.
Johnston said the rebates -- totaling $365 million, with $264 million going to three companies -- was needed to keep U.S. refineries in business.
Sugar lobbyists were pushing the proposals on Capitol Hill, but Johnston said "my special interest is 1,100 Louisiana employes" of sugar refineries who would lose their jobs if the rebate was denied.
If his provision were killed, he said, it "would be to export American jobs" and "step one in closing down American refining and the production of American sugar."
Johnston's proposal would allow refiners of cane sugar to extend the time that they can get tariff rebates on imported raw sugar when they export it in a refined form.
Current law allows five years to export the refined product, but this measure adds another five years -- allowing refiners to get rebates on sugar imported back to 1977.
Opponents of the measure, led by Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), attacked it as a giveaway of government funds to major sugar refiners.
Chafee said sugar that was imported between 1977 and 1982 probably was sold in the United States because of a glut of refined products on the world market.
But the new provisions in the Senate bill would allow refiners to collect rebates anyway on the basis of the export of duty-free sugar they are now bringing in from Caribbean nations for overseas sales.
Using administration-supplied data, Chafee said three refiners would get the lion's share. They are Amstar Corp., which he said would get $135 million; Imperial Sugar Co., which would receive $38 million, and Savannah Foods & Industries, which would get $91 million.
He said the U.S. Customs Service had destroyed its records going back more than eight years and would have to accept the companies' figures on the amount of rebate -- called a drawback -- they were owed.
The registration requirement for foreign investment was painted by its main sponsor, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), as being designed "just to give us the basic information" about who was buying American corporations and farms.
Harkin said other countries have stricter registration requirements for foreign investment and argued that the only people who should object are drug peddlers, other criminals and subversive organizations.
But opponents cited a letter from Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul A. Volcker saying the registration requirements would "deter" foreign investment needed to finance the U.S. budget deficit.
"Foreign investment is vital to the U.S. economy," said Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.).
Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), another opponent, said the measure conflicted with the U.S. negotiating strategy at talks to improve the global compact that regulates trade, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
The Reagan administration has made a reduction of barriers to foreign investment a priority for the trade round.