The Senate brought President Bush a step closer to having the Trade Promotion Authority legislation he's been seeking to strengthen his hand in trade negotiations. But it's not a certainty the president would even sign the bill the Senate passed, 66-30.
The sticking point is the Senate bill's Dayton-Craig amendment, which would allow the Senate to consider separately any trade agreement provisions that conflict with U.S. law on the environment, food safety and unfair trade practices. The president has said he will veto a bill containing the amendment.
Administration officials are hopeful the provision, named for Sens. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, will be removed in a conference with House members, whose own bill does not contain the amendment. The committee was to begin meeting after Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess.
“We are extremely pleased that Trade Promotion Authority passed out of the Senate with such strong bipartisan support,” said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. “This is extremely good news for American agriculture. And, it is an important step in restoring the president's authority to negotiate and enter into trade agreements that will boost U.S. food and agricultural exports.
If the administration and House and Senate conferees can reach an agreement on the Dayton-Craig amendment, it would give a sitting president “fast-track” authority to negotiate trade agreements without having them subjected to Senate debate for the first time since 1994.
The House version of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation, which passed by one vote last fall, also does not contain the Senate bill's language expanding federal assistance to workers whose jobs are lost due to increased trade and imports.
A third Senate amendment, offered by Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., that would instruct U.S. negotiators to base reductions in U.S. textile and apparel tariffs on equal reductions by other countries, has not drawn as much administration criticism as Dayton-Craig and the job assistance amendment.
Most farm organizations are supportive of the legislation because it means the administration can negotiate trade agreements without subjecting them to detailed review by the Senate — which could be a factor in the World Trade Organization agricultural negotiations scheduled for next month.
“Trade Promotion Authority for the president sends the signal to our trading partners that the United States is ready to assume a leadership role in these negotiations and has the backing of Congress to actively engage in the process,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “Senate passage was critical to the interests of U.S. agriculture.”
WTO member countries will meet in early June and again in September to determine whether or not global disparities in tariffs, export subsidies and domestic supports will be eliminated or allowed to continue to the disadvantage of America's food and fiber producers.
“Instead of allowing other WTO member countries, such as the European Union, to lead negotiations based on their interests, President Bush's trade team will be able to actively rewrite the rules that will govern global trade in agriculture for decades to come,” Stallman noted.
He said Farm Bureau believes TPA plays an integral role in improving the financial outlook for America's farmers and ranchers.
“Farms are dependent on exports for their economic viability, and have continued to be at a disadvantage in the world market without TPA,” or Fast Track Authority, which was last enjoyed by President Clinton.
Stallman pointed out that U.S. agricultural exports face trade-distorting domestic supports that are “four times greater than U.S. supports, tariffs that are on average five times greater than our own and export subsidies that are 40 times what our producers receive. TPA will allow the United States to take advantage of the upcoming WTO negotiating opportunity to dismantle trade barriers that hurt farmer and rancher income.”