By  on April 18, 2007

WASHINGTON — House Ways & Means Committee chairman Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.) said Tuesday that Democrats were prepared to extend a restricted trade promotion authority to President Bush for a global trade accord as long as certain conditions were met.

"First of all, as it relates to Doha, there are claims that there is new life and that they need fast track [as TPA was formerly called] in order to continue," said Rangel, referring to the global trade talks aimed at reducing tariffs among World Trade Organization members. "We are prepared to give a restricted fast track limited to Doha."

The Bush administration is seeking renewal of the authority, which expires June 30, because it allows U.S. negotiators to craft a trade pact without Congress being able to amend it. Reaching a global trade accord without the authority would be next to impossible for the U.S.

Rangel's pronouncement that Democrats are still willing to consider a limited extension of TPA came as a relief to apparel importers, who have been lobbying aggressively for a tariff-lowering global trade accord but have heard mixed messages on the fate of the authority.

Rangel said after an address at the National Press Club that he is working with others to develop new terms for the limited TPA extension, but he stopped short of saying specifically what Democrats would demand in exchange and how long the extension would run.

He stressed that TPA extension is tied to a broader set of principles the Democrats unveiled late last month, dubbed "A New Trade Policy for America."

Rangel and Rep. Jim McCrery (R., La.), the ranking Republican on Ways & Means, have been in tense negotiations with key members of Bush's cabinet, including U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr., over the Democrats' trade policy demands for pending trade deals and TPA renewal.

Rangel said he didn't know if Democrats could move forward politically with TPA extension without working out one of the Democrats' key principles — incorporating International Labor Organization standards in trade deals — with the Bush administration.

He said Democrats have not yet received a formal TPA request from the Bush administration and noted that it is the "administration's call" as to whether the new bipartisan trade policy has to be approved as a prerequisite. Rangel also said he planned to meet with his counterpart, Sen. Max Baucus (D. Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, later Tuesday.

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