GATT NEARS WINNING HOUSE GOP BACKING

Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON--Administration officials are close to winning House Republican support of the GATT Uruguay Round, following a Capitol Hill meeting Thursday on the remaining obstacles to consensus--agreement on funding, extension of fast-track negotiating authority and creation of the World Trade Organization.
"If there is not some unforeseen glitch, we are on the road to agreement," said Rep. Bill Archer (R., Tex.), ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, after the meeting.
Archer, along with House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R., Ill.) and Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R., Ga.), met for more than an hour with Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta and U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor.
"We're close to getting an agreement," Panetta said after emerging from the session in Michel's office.
Bringing Republicans on board is significant, because without their support GATT is unlikely to pass the House. It was House Republicans who delivered success for President Clinton in last year's vote on the North American Free Trade Agreement. More Republicans voted for it than Democrats.
The House Ways and Means panel is expected to meet in the coming weeks with the Senate Finance Committee to resolve differences in their two versions before sending a final recommendation on implementing language to the White House. Before the House panel could meet with the Senate, however, it was trying to resolve differences on funding, fast track and the WTO.
The only item left to resolve is the administration's proposed inventory tax change affecting retailers, which Republicans have adamantly opposed. The tax is a small part of an $11.5 billion package devised by the administration to make up for the tariff revenue that would be lost during the first five years of GATT.
On Thursday, Republicans rejected an administration counteroffer that would have halved the allowed deduction. The National Retail Federation rejected the compromise as unacceptable. Late Thursday, the Republicans were waiting for the administration to come back with another funding plan to replace the inventory tax change, which would have raised about $550 million.
"We made it clear that the inventory tax is a deal killer," Archer said.
Gingrich said his objections to the WTO, which would be created by the GATT agreement, had been satisfied with the administration's agreement to authorize Congress to review U.S. membership five years after GATT takes affect. Congress would have the right to make any changes it considered necessary to U.S. membership in the WTO. Gingrich earlier had expressed doubts about U.S. trade sovereignty and the possible threat to U.S. laws.
"We have full prospect of reaching an agreement," Gingrich said about the WTO.
The Republicans are requesting that provisions requiring labor and environmental standards to be part of future trade negotiations be eliminated from fast track. Instead, House Republicans are specifying that labor and environmental standards be included in negotiations only if they are used to remove trade barriers.
While the administration has proposed that fast-track negotiating authority be extended for seven years, and then whittled that proposal down to 2 1/2 years, Gingrich said that if the terms of fast track could be agreed upon, House Republicans would agree to an extension of up to seven years.
Under fast track, the administration is given the authority to negotiate free trade agreements that Congress can approve or disapprove, but not amend. It is viewed as a critical negotiating tool with foreign governments.
--Fairchild News Service

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