CRANE EYES FAST TRACK TRY FOR CHILE
Byline: Joyce Barrett
WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Trade Subcommittee said last week he plans an attempt early next year to extend fast track negotiating authority to President Clinton to bring Chile into the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Rep. Phil Crane (R., Ill.) said the authority, which restricts Congress from amending trade agreements negotiated by the administration, would be granted for one year. It would restrict the administration to negotiating only with Chile.
This new plan is a scaled-down version of Crane’s five-year extension plan that would have permitted trade talks with any country. It was scrapped earlier this year when congressional Republicans and the Clinton White House could not agree on whether to include labor and environmental protections in the pact. The administration has insisted the additional protections be included as part of negotiations, while Republicans have resisted.
Crane said he is especially concerned about including Chile in NAFTA because Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay have made overtures to Chile to bring it into their trading block Mercosur. The Mercosur countries are seeking to form a close trading alliance with European Union countries.
“Chile has been patiently waiting in the wings for eight years,” Crane told reporters after his panel approved the international Shipbuilding Trade Agreement. The shipbuilding pact, which covers 80 percent of ships engaged in global shipping, would end government subsidies granted either to shipbuilders or ship operators, and now will go to the House Ways and Means Committee.
Crane said that Chile was “more advanced” than Mexico when it comes to labor and environmental standards, and so those standards need not be included in any agreement. Congressional Republicans are currently in negotiations with the administration to come up with fast-track language all sides can agree on.
The Clinton administration has been pursuing trade talks with Chile for the past year to bring it into NAFTA but cannot conclude its efforts until it is given fast track. Without that protection, it is difficult for U.S. negotiators to secure concessions from countries who fear that Congress can alter critical details of treaties when they reach Capitol Hill. Under fast track, Congress can only approve or disapprove treaties.
On another trade matter, Crane is drafting a bill that would permit the Commerce Department to suspend consideration of antidumping and countervailing duty penalties for up to a year by simply deeming they are “inappropriate.”
A Crane aide said he was considering adding it to the shipbuilding bill when the Ways and Means Committee considers it in the coming weeks. The measure has drawn the ire of yarn and apparel makers who say it would kill the last protection they have against illicit imports.
“This is ridiculous legislation,” said Seth Bodner, executive director of the National Sportswear and Knitwear Association. “If this becomes law, we would have no trade law that we could rely on.”
Jim Conner, executive vice president of the American Yarnspinners Association in Gastonia, N.C., said yarn importers have been severely hurt by dumped imports. Conner said that most European yarn is dumped in the U.S. market and says that if the penalties are suspended, foreign countries will be given an opening to hurt U.S. producers even more. His association filed two antidumping and two countervailing duty cases in the Seventies and Eighties and won them all, yet they are expensive and time consuming, Conner said.
“While we’re waiting on decisions, plants are closing,” Conner added. “This is another sham to get around antidumping laws. This will just further weaken our trade laws.”