Bush follows grain export trail to New Orleans

Tuesday, January 15th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ President Bush on Tuesday called on the U.S. Senate to give him the authority to quickly negotiate free-trade agreements that he said will create more jobs.

``This isn't a Republican issue. This isn't a Democratic issue. This is a jobs issue,'' Bush said during a speech at the Port of New Orleans. ``If you trade more, there are more jobs for hardworking Americans.''

Bush is seeking authority to negotiate ``fast-track'' trade agreements, which Congress could reject but not amend. The Senate is to vote on the matter early this year.

Many Democrats and labor and conservation groups oppose fast-track because they fear it would threaten American jobs and make it easier for polluters to challenge environmental-protection laws.

Bush also said the Senate needs to pass a national energy bill, which is currently stalled.

``A national energy policy will help us conserve more, it will help up produce more'' and will create jobs, Bush said.

The president's stage was surrounded by a backdrop of shipping containers. To one side, was a container ship and a huge crain used to move the containers.

Agriculture exports were the theme of Bush's trip _ a three-state swing along the route taken by grain and other farm products.

But after spending much of Monday in the farm belt, Bush turned his attention to a New Orleans specialty _ seafood _ Monday night. The president dined in a private room at Antoine's in the French Quarter, joined by Gov. Mike Foster, New Orleans real estate developer Joseph Canizaro, the governor's executive counsel, Bernie Boudreaux Jr., and several advisers.

Bush ate the restaurant's famed oysters Rockefeller, grilled filet of pompano topped with lump crabmeat and baked Alaska for dessert. Two Secret Service agents watched assistant chef Ernest Jack prepare the dishes in the restaurant's kitchen. Jack said it was the first time he cooked a meal for a president.

``I was a little nervous,'' said the 27-year veteran of the restaurant. ``I wanted to make sure everything was right.''

Bush's scraped and bruised left cheek was clearly visible as he left the restaurant around 8 p.m. He paused before climbing into his limousine and waved to the large crowd of onlookers that had gathered behind a police line at St. Louis and Royal streets a half-block away. He leaned across the back seat as the car passed the cheering throng, giving them an energetic wave and a thumbs-up sign.

Bush spent the night at the downtown Windsor Court Hotel, the perimeter of which was barricaded, restricting both auto and pedestrian traffic. All other hotel guests went through heightened security checks at the entrance to the building.

Steel imports also play a huge part in business at the Port of New Orleans, the site Bush chose to make a public speech. The Bush administration has until early March to decide whether to set tariffs on 12 of 33 categories of steel imports, which the U.S. International Trade Commission says have hurt domestic steel companies.

Grain often leaves on ships on which steel was imported, so curbing steel imports would hurt the farm trade, the port's director, Gary LaGrange, has said.