By  on February 13, 2007

WASHINGTON — A coalition of businesses and trade associations, including several representing apparel importers and retailers, on Monday launched Trade for America, an umbrella group that will push for the renewal of President Bush's Trade Promotion Authority.

The authority, which expires at the end of June, is seen as vital to myriad trade deals in the works, from far-reaching World Trade Organization talks to a free trade pact with South Korea, because it allows for consideration of trade bills without congressional amendments.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association are on the steering committee of Trade for America.

"The equation is quite simple," U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said during a press conference at the National Press Club to launch the group. "Trade agreements mean more exports and more exports mean better jobs."

Democrats, who now hold majorities in the House and the Senate, have called for stronger labor and environmental provisions in trade deals, details of which could be included in legislation to renew TPA.

The administration could still negotiate trade agreements without the authority, but it would be harder to get congressional approval and trading partners might not be as willing to deal, given that Congress might later mandate changes.

"Without TPA, other countries will keep cutting trade deals as the United States looks on with one hand tied behind our back," said Schwab.

Not everybody is so keen on getting the authority renewed, however.

"We oppose it," said a spokesman for the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, which represents domestic textile producers. "It basically takes Congress out of the equation in trade policy oversight. If you have a more robust process where Congress is taking a much more active, hands-on role, than it becomes more difficult for special interests, for moneyed interests, to kind of buy their way into a deal that may not be good for the American people writ large."

Although there are a number of trade deals being negotiated that could benefit from the renewal of the negotiating authority, the WTO's Doha negotiations are potentially the most significant. The talks are intended to help spur economic growth in developing countries by lowering tariffs and reducing government subsidies in the areas of agricultural and industrial goods, such as apparel, and services.

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