With one eye on Wall Street, House and Senate conferees came close to agreement yesterday on a major element of the trade bill authorizing the administration to take part in talks to rewrite the world's trade rules.
U.S. Trade Representative Clayton K. Yeutter, praising the compromise reached as Congress began its work to meld two trade bills of more than 1,000 pages each, said the cooperation between Congress and the administration "sends a positive signal to the global marketplace."
"We are clearly aware that we are dealing with a situation of nervousness and volatility in the financial markets. ... It is not the time to send the kind of protectionist signals" that helped trigger the Great Depression of 1929, he added.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) said Yeutter's willingness to work with Congress to resolve differences on trade legislation and the ability of the House and Senate to strike a compromise on giving the president negotiating authority for the new round of trade talks "sends a positive signal to the markets."
Yesterday's meeting of conferees from the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees and a session Wednesday of conferees on sections of the trade bill on labor issues signaled the start of what is seen as one of the largest and most complex conferences ever run on Capitol Hill. The conference involves 199 lawmakers serving on 17 groups considering different provisions of the legislation.
The meeting yesterday of Subconference No. 1 -- considering the biggest part of the bill, dealing with traditional trade laws -- began the House-Senate joint look at some of the most contentious issues in the legislation. They focused yesterday on renewing the administration's authority, which expires in January, to negotiate at the "Uruguay Round" of talks to strengthen the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the 95-nation compact that sets the rules for world trade.
Yeutter acknowledged that is one of the administration's major aims in supporting trade legislation this year -- "a very important issue to us."
"This sends a signal to our trading partners around the world that the U.S. Congress seeks to enact trade legislation that will reassert American leadership of a free and open global trading system," Bentsen said.
"We must, as part of our trade legislation, give the president a negotiating mandate this year in order for him to provide the leadership that is needed as the Uruguay Round seeks to rewrite the rules of international trade," Bentsen said.
The lawmakers gave their tentative approval to compromises reached earlier by the staffs of the Finance and Ways and Means committees. These extend the negotiating authority until 1993, with a midterm review and a chance for Congress to revoke it two years earlier.
Yeutter said the compromises "removed some of the rough edges" that concerned the administration, including listing specific negotiating objectives that could have put the government on a short leash in the talks.
Two major issues in the Senate bill still concern Yeutter, but staff members of both committees said they believed the issues can be worked out easily. The issues are the Senate's refusal to grant the president authority to enter into major tariff agreements as the House did, and a provision that removes negotiating authority if the president fails to consult with Congress.