Not-quite-his­toric trade bills

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Congress and the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion have achieved a po­ten­tially his­toric bi­par­ti­san break­through in U.S. trade pol­icy. The oper­a­tive phrase is “po­ten­tially his­toric.” In the very near term, the com­pro­mises two weeks ago in­volv­ing la­bor and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards will af­fect only rel­a­tively mi­nor bi­lat­eral free trade agree­ments (FTAs) with Peru and Panama. How­ever, U.S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Susan C. Sch­wab, who played a cru­cial role in the con­gres­sional ne­go­ti­a­tions and who will now con­duct fi­nal rounds of trade ne­go­ti­a­tions with Colom­bia and South Korea, con­fi­dently de­clared that “the bi­par­ti­san con­sen­sus” would pro­vide “a clear and rea­son­able path for­ward for con­gres­sional con­sid­er­a­tion” of FTAs with Colom­bia and South Korea as well. She ex­pressed fur­ther op­ti­mism that the “new trade pol­icy tem­plate also opens the way for bi­par­ti­san work on Trade Pro­mo­tion Author­ity” (TPA). For­merly known as fast-track author­ity, Pres­i­dent Bush’s TPA ex­pires at the end of June. Ex­ten­sion of TPA will be es­sen­tial to reach fi­nal agree­ment in the much more ex­pan­sive, much more dif­fi­cult mul­ti­lat­eral trade ne­go­ti­a­tions presently tak­ing place in the Doha round. Un­der TPA, Congress can­not amend trade agree­ments; it can only ap­prove (by sim­ple ma­jori­ties in both cham­bers) or re­ject them.

Un­der the new agree­ment, in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized, en­force­able la­bor and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards will be added to each of th­ese four bi­lat­eral FTAs be­fore Congress con­sid­ers them. The la­bor stan­dards (e.g., right of work­ers to bar­gain col­lec­tively, the elim­i­na­tion of forced la­bor and the ef­fec­tive abo­li­tion of child la­bor) are de­rived from the 1998 In­ter­na­tional La­bor Or­ga­ni­za­tion dec­la­ra­tion, which the United States has ap­proved. The en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards in­clude seven com­mon ma­jor mul­ti­lat­eral en­vi­ron­ment agree­ments, with which the United States com­plies.

Since the 1993 fight over the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment (NAFTA), Democrats have bat­tled — un­suc­cess­fully un­til now — to in­cor­po­rate bind­ing la­bor and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards within trade agree­ments. More­over, the bi­par­ti­san con­sen­sus on trade has bro- ken down since NAFTA, which gar­nered 102 House Demo­cratic votes and passed 234-200 and 27 Se­nate Demo­cratic votes to pass 61-38. In 2005, the Repub­li­can­con­trolled Congress much more nar­rowly passed (217-215 in the House; 54-45 in the Se­nate) the os­ten­si­bly far less con­tro­ver­sial Cen­tral Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, which re­ceived the sup­port of only 15 of 202 Demo­cratic rep­re­sen­ta­tives and 10 of 43 Demo­cratic sen­a­tors.

So, when Democrats re­cap­tured both cham­bers last year, bring­ing dozens of trade-skep­ti­cal Democrats to Wash­ing­ton, the writ­ing was on the wall. In ex­change for in­cor­po­rat­ing la­bor and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards within FTAs, we would have much pre­ferred that the pres­i­dent’s TPA be ex­tended and that all four bi­lat­eral trade agree­ments be quickly ap­proved in bi­par­ti­san votes. But that wasn’t what the Demo­cratic lead­er­ship was of­fer­ing when ne­go­ti­at­ing from a much stronger po­si­tion. For last week’s break­through to be truly his­toric, it will have to lead to a con­gres­sion­ally ap­proved mul­ti­lat­eral Doha agree­ment.

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