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Fast track trade authority clears senate

The American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) said United States Senate passage of the Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority Act of 2001 marks a significant step toward renewing the presidential power to negotiate trade agreements. The measure passed by a vote of 66-30. Differences between the Senate version and legislation passed in fall 2001 by the US House of Representatives will be reconciled in conference committee.

The original trade promotion authority measure would allow the president to negotiate trade agreements that would eliminate and reduce trade barriers, and submit them to Congress for a vote without amendments. Congress had extended this authority to the president since 1975, until its expiration in 1993. Efforts to reinstate this power have failed as Congress has twice rejected such proposals.

However, the Senate bill allows Congress to vote separately on any trade provisions that weaken anti-dumping laws, which are meant to combat unfair practices by other nations, such as subsidized or cut-rate exports. The president has said he may veto the legislation if this provision is not removed in conference. The Senate version of the legislation also would expand the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which was designed to help workers who lose jobs because of trade expansion.

The ability of the United States to make progress toward free and fair trade through continued negotiation has virtually stalled because of the absence of trade promotion authority. Without this ability, many nations will not begin negotiations with the United States, fearing congressional changes to the treaty after it has been negotiated.

In absence of a presidential veto, members of the House and Senate believe the trade promotion authority package will be enacted by the end of 2002.

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