By  on June 20, 1994

WASHINGTON -- Opposition is already mounting against a Clinton administration proposal to include in the implementing legislation for the GATT Uruguay Round a seven-year extension of fast-track negotiating authority for additional free-trade agreements.

The plan is to be discussed for the first time publicly today by the House Trade Subcommittee, which was privately briefed on it late last week by Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Rufus Yerxa.

Under the White House proposal, fast-track negotiating authority would be extended for seven years, presumably to pursue free-trade agreements with Latin American countries. The administration proposal did not mention any countries, though. The plan also would require the administration to give Congress 60 days notice of its intent to begin trade talks and to inform Congress of its goals to seek labor standards and environmental protection provisions in the treaty.

In addition, the Clinton plan would reduce the amount of time Congress has to consider trade agreements from 90 legislative days to 60.

Rep. Bill Richardson (D., N.M.) said the administration's plan was "too broad and needed to be more specific" in requiring that labor and environmental protections be included in trade treaties. He added, "It means the administration does not have a trade policy."

Richardson, along with House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D., Mo.), has sponsored a bill to give Clinton fast-track authority until Jan. 1, 1997, to negotiate a trade agreement with Chile. The bill would grant the President fast-track environmental protections in the treaty negotiations and a dispute resolution to cover these areas.

Acting chairman of the House Trade Subcommittee Robert Matsui (D.,Calif.) acknowledged that the proposal would be controversial, but said no consensus had yet been reached among subcommittee members. Earlier in the week, however, Matsui said he would strike any provisions added to the implementing legislation by the administration that could cost critical votes in the House.

Organized labor also likely will oppose it, said Mark Anderson, director of international trade for the AFL-CIO. He said labor would prefer that fast-track be considered on its own and not along with another trade agreement.

"The administration isn't making GATT passage easy," Anderson said, noting that the additions of fast track, CBI parity and extension of the Generalized System of Preferences were sparking opposition.One House staffer close to the trade debate called the proposal "politically naive" and the "result of a trade staff unaware of political reality." Including fast-track authority in GATT could cost the support of many House Democrats because it is such a divisive issue, the aide said, noting that the last time the House voted for fast track most Democrats opposed it.

The idea to shorten the length of time Congress has to consider trade agreements, even though Congress usually doesn't take all the time allotted it, is a bad idea, the aide further said.

"It's a step backward," he said. "It shows disrespect and disdain for Congress."

Also, current negotiating procedures already allow for the administration to come before Congress to outline its goals before negotiating treaties and writing that into law is not necessary, the aide said.

The administration's timing for its fast track request comes just as the leaders of 19 Latin American countries have announced their intention to form one Latin American free trade zone.

Meanwhile, House Trade Subcommittee members have been given until today to submit any changes they want to make to the draft implementing legislation before the administration completes its work on it. Matsui has said he wants the subcommittee to complete its work on the draft implementing legislation by the end of June so the full committee can start work in July when Congress returns from its Fourth of July break.

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