LABOR, ENVIRONMENT REMAIN KEY FOR FAST-TRACK OK BY CONGRESS
Byline: Joyce Barrett
WASHINGTON — With President Clinton expected to unveil details of his request for negotiating authority for future free trade pacts next week, a key House Republican reiterated Thursday his opposition to the inclusion of labor and environmental protections and indicated the White House agreed with his stance.
Rep. Bill Archer (R., Tex.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade matters, said in a press conference that in a meeting this week with U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, she indicated the “administration was heading in the right direction” on labor and environmental protections. Barshefsky, however, did not give him any details on the administration’s proposals, he said.
Rep. Jim Moran (D., Va.), who met with Barshefsky Thursday as part of the New Democratic Coalition, said she indicated that labor and environmental protections would be included in the preface of the fast-track request, an attempt to mollify organized labor while not alienating Republicans by mandating negotiations on the two items.
The two side issues have been a major point of contention in the debate over fast-track negotiating authority between the White House and Capitol Hill and in fact derailed an attempt by the administration to attain the authority last year.
The administration says it needs fast track because foreign governments won’t negotiate unless the president has the authority, which prohibits Congress from altering trade pacts. Trade agreements negotiated under fast track can only be approved or denied by Congress under a strict timetable. Chile is first in line for completion of negotiations of an expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The details of the plan are critical because it can set the parameters for trade policies with Latin American and Pacific Rim countries.
Barshefsky is expected on Capitol Hill today to meet with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.). Lott has said that if the administration seeks to “score political points with labor and environmentalists” in its fast-track plan, “that could kill it.”
House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt (D., Mo.), who also met with Barshefsky Thursday, has repeatedly warned the administration that he will fight fast track if it does not include strong language for environmental and labor protections, and he is expected to win the backing of the majority of House Democrats for his tough stance.
Regardless of how the labor and environmental issues are decided, fast track faces a host of other hurdles on Capitol Hill. Agricultural interests are complaining that food inspection has suffered under NAFTA; wine interests charge that free trade with Chile could flood the market with inexpensive imports, and free trade opponents charge that NAFTA has cost the U.S. jobs. It’s also expected that some may attempt to complicate the fast-track debate by bringing up a bill simultaneously that would require Congress to vote on China’s accession to the World Trade Organization. Also, Rep. Phil Crane (R., Ill.), chairman of the House Trade Subcommittee, is expected to attach a bill that would liberalize textile and apparel trade with qualifying African countries.