Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R., Ga.) gave a boost Tuesday to a plan to expand trade privileges to Caribbean nations, and efforts to extend the administration’s negotiating authority for more free-trade pacts.
In testimony before the House Trade Subcommittee and in talks with reporters after his appearance, Gingrich said Congress should consider the two measures as soon as possible.
“The Caribbean countries have a legitimate grievance that they were excluded from the North American Free Trade Agreement,” Gingrich told reporters.
“Those countries deserve to have [their] most powerful neighbor in the Western Hemisphere work with them on this.”
Caribbean nations have been agitating for trade parity with Mexico since NAFTA was implemented in 1994.
They have charged that under NAFTA, apparel makers are relocating to Mexico to take advantage of the lower tariffs.
Attempts to expand similar trade benefits to the 24 Caribbean island nations have failed in the last two Congresses, and there has been strong opposition from certain segments of the domestic apparel and textile industry, although many favor it.
Gingrich also urged the administration to submit a fast-track extension to Congress for consideration this spring.
“I’m deeply supportive of fast track,” he said. Later, to reporters, Gingrich discussed the stickiest problem in fast-track negotiations: whether to include labor and environmental protections.
Democrats, led by Rep. Richard Gephardt (D., Mo.), have insisted that labor and environmental protections be part of any free-trade talks.
Republicans have resisted. Gingrich appeared to indicate some middle ground could be found.
“Those issues that relate to trade we would be willing to look at as long as we aren’t mandating a social contract in our trade policies,” he said.
Referring to President Clinton’s planned trip to Latin America in the fall, Gingrich said it would be “embarrassing” for Clinton to go without first having attained fast-track authority from Congress.
The administration needs fast track before it can complete talks to bring Chile into NAFTA and extend a free-trade pact to other countries in Latin America.
Under fast-track authority, the administration can negotiate free from fear that Congress will change hard-won treaties and concessions from U.S. trading partners.
Treaties negotiated under fast-track authority cannot be changed but only approved or disapproved by Congress, according to a very specific timetable.

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