BUSH proposes trade policy guidelines

Friday, May 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush gave Congress on Thursday the long-awaited framework of trade legislation that he hoped would break a stalemate over the president's authority to negotiate free-trade agreements.

But to Democrats demanding enforceable labor and environmental standards for trading partners, the president offered only ``an illustrative toolbox of actions'' for encouraging good behavior overseas.

``These goals must be pursued in a way that respects U.S. sovereignty and avoids self-defeating protectionism,'' the White House said in the nine-page statement of principles submitted to Congress.

In a cover letter, Bush told congressional leaders that he has the enactment of so-called Trade Promotion Authority at the top of his trade agenda. Such authority gives the administration greater leverage in trade negotiations by empowering the president to sign pacts subject only to an up-or-down vote by Congress _ without possibility of amendment.

The authority expired in 1994 and, in Congress, free-traders have been deadlocked with environmental and labor activists ever since.

``We can no longer afford to sit still while our trading partners move ahead without us,'' Bush said.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said, ``Every day that goes by without this authority is another day of wasted opportunity.''

Democrats were not impressed.

``What good is a 'tool box' if doesn't contain a hammer to enforce labor and environmental protections with tough trade sanctions?'' said Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich. ``There was a chance for a bipartisan solution, but this isn't it.''

Labor unions said Bush made no effort to address their concerns for workers overseas.

``This is a very thin document; it's not even a proposal. It doesn't look like there's anything new or important here and we're disappointed,'' said David Smith, director of public policy at the AFL-CIO.

Bush outlined 17 ``tools'' _ pre-existing entities such as the Agency for International Development, World Trade Organization, International Labor Organization and others _ that he said can be used to urge and promote adherence to labor and environmental standards.

``Discussions with U.N. agencies, as suggested by the administration, can be useful but are not a substitute for addressing enforceable core labor and environmental standards in trade negotiations,'' said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade.

The administration opposes trade sanctions for labor and environmental violations by U.S. trading partners. And Bush said at a trade summit last month that labor and environmental codicils to trade pacts would ``destroy the spirit of free trade.''

Rep. Philip Crane, chairman of the House trade subcommittee, welcomed the framework that Bush advanced Thursday.

``Much of the trade debate is focused on whether trade agreements should be used to force countries to change social policies. While improving environment and labor conditions is a high priority, I believe using trade as the hammer to force these changes is counterproductive because it injects so much uncertainty into the trade and investment climate,'' said Crane, R-Ill.