By  on April 16, 2007

WASHINGTON — Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), the Senate's key Democrat on trade, said Friday that renewal of President Bush's trade promotion authority was unnecessary in the absence of any new trade agreements or a global trade accord.

Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, also appeared to reverse his position on making one of his major initiatives — an overhaul of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program that allocates federal funding to workers displaced by imports — a condition for renewal of TPA. He said he would pursue separate legislation to revamp the domestic trade aid program.

The Bush administration is seeking renewal of the authority, also known as "fast track," which expires on June 30, because it allows U.S. negotiators to craft a trade pact without Congress being able to amend it. Reaching a global trade deal without the authority would be difficult for the U.S.

Baucus said if "there are no new pending trade agreements, whether they are bilateral or multilateral, then there is not going to be a need for TPA. Once trade agreements start coming down the pike, then there will be a need for us to address TPA."

Baucus said if the administration presents a finalized global deal to Congress, it would be "a big mover in helping us get focused" on renewing the authority. But the current Doha Round of talks between World Trade Organization countries has been in a quagmire for months over agricultural issues.

Pending trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Panama and South Korea all met the deadline for notification under the current trade authority, the senator said.

His comments came at a time of tense negotiations between House Democrats and the Bush administration over a framework of conditions for fast-track renewal. One of the key conditions Democrats have sought is a reform and expansion of the trade adjustment program.

Baucus unveiled some of the changes he plans to fold into a new trade aid bill at a Trade Adjustment Assistance Coalition luncheon Friday. He introduced a similar bill in January, but many new ideas will be incorporated into a second bill.

He said after the luncheon address that "TAA is going to have to travel by itself," independent of any potential legislation for renewing trade promotion authority."Right now, the landscape looks to me like it's best to pursue that current program aggressively and also that means there will be more of a spotlight on it," said Baucus, adding that it is "better for the sake of the program to focus on it separately."

Among the changes Baucus is seeking in TAA reform legislation are expanding it to include service workers displaced by trade, developing a strategy to help affected communities, certifying entire industries as vulnerable, assisting workers before they lose their jobs, raising the government's share of a health care premium for displaced workers, making it easier for workers to claim wage insurance benefits and covering workers whose firms shift production to China and India. The current TAA program only covers those workers whose firms move to countries with which the U.S. has trade agreements.

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