US business begins push for post-Bush trade deals
A US business group outlined a plan to restore White House trade negotiating authority that was badly damaged in a fight between President George W. Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over a free trade pact with Colombia.
Regardless of who wins November's presidential election, "the new Congress and the new administration will have to have a trade policy and will have to grapple with what to do about the process for negotiating trade agreements," said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council.
The group, whose members include Boeing, Caterpillar, General Electric, Microsoft and other major US employers, hopes its draft Bill will help shape the outcome of an expected congressional trade debate next year.
The proposal, crafted with help from former Democratic and Republican aides on the Senate Finance Committee, must be introduced by a member of Congress to have a chance at becoming law. Mr Reinsh said the NFTC would not seek a congressional sponsor to introduce it until next year.
A main provision would create a new congressional joint committee on trade with the power to block the White House from negotiating bilateral free trade deals like those Bush has aggressively pursued.
It would renew "fast track" trade negotiating authority through June 2013, with the possibility of one four-year extension. It would cover the current Doha round of world trade talks and three free trade pacts awaiting action in Congress.
Fast track dates to 1974. It allows the White House to negotiate trade deals that it can submit to Congress to approve or not, but not alter, within a limited timeframe.
Bush's fast track authority expired last year, and Democratic leaders in Congress have made no effort to renew it.
Three pending free trade agreements, with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, are covered by the legislation because they were signed before fast track expired.
However, when Mr Bush submitted the Colombia agreement to Congress in April against the advice of Democratic leaders, Pelosi pushed through a rule change allowing her to indefinitely delay action on the trade pact.
Trade experts generally agree the fight in Congress crippled fast track by removing the certainty that lawmakers would vote on agreements negotiated by the White House.