The United States Congress haspassed a new trade bill. The Senate passed the bill Thursday by avote of sixty to thirty-four. Opposition was stronger in the Houseof Representatives where the bill passed by only three votes. It hasgone to President Bush to be signed.
The bill gives the president and United States traderepresentatives what is called "fast track" power on tradenegotiation issues. That means they will have more freedom tonegotiate trade agreements.
The bill limits congressional debate on trade agreements broughtbefore it. Lawmakers have to vote on the agreements within ninetydays. Also, they no longer are permitted to make changes to theagreements. They have to accept or reject the agreement as it iswritten.
The new trade bill requires that the administration communicatewith congressional committees while trade negotiations are beingheld. The bill says the administration must consider the protectionof workers' rights and the environment as negotiating goals. And,negotiators have to consider United States laws designed to fightunfair business activities by foreign countries.
Yet, the bill only requires these issues be considered duringtrade negotiations. It does not demand that negotiators honor thegoals in reaching agreements.
Congress first passed fast track legislation innineteen-seventy-four. American presidents enjoyed the power for thenext twenty years. In nineteen-ninety-four, Congress voted againstextending the power to then president, Bill Clinton. Lawmakers ofMister Clinton's Democratic party led the opposition to thelegislation. They argued that more congressional control in tradeissues would help protect workers rights and the environment.
Democrats led the opposition to this latest fast track bill. Andthey won some compromises. For example, the bill provides more thanone-thousand-million dollars yearly for health insurance and otheraid to United States workers who lose their jobs to foreigncompetition. The bill also guarantees help for some workers whosefactories are moved to foreign countries.
The new trade bill could help a number of South Americancountries. It includes the Andean Trade Preference that offers lowerimport taxes to Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. However, thecountries must show that they are taking steps to fight trade inillegal drugs.
President Bush says he will sign the trade bill into law nextweek. It will be in effect for five years. Mister Bush says the billwill open markets and create jobs for American workers and farmers.American Trade Representative Robert Zoellic campaigned hard for thebill. He argued that countries refuse to negotiate with him whilelawmakers can interfere with the terms he negotiates.
This VOA Special English program In The News was written by CatyWeaver. This is Steve Ember.