President Bush asked Congress yesterday to extend for two more years his authority to negotiate trade agreements under a "fast-track" approval...
WASHINGTON — President Bush asked Congress yesterday to extend for two more years his authority to negotiate trade agreements under a “fast-track” approval process. He needs that power to complete several U.S. trade deals as well as a pact covering 148 nations.
The authority that expires July 1 allows Congress only to approve or reject, without amendments, trade deals that the president sends to Capitol Hill. Bush’s request will extend that expedited process of congressional review through July 1, 2007.
Approval of the extension will be automatic unless either the House or Senate votes to reject the request.
While opponents contend that Bush’s free-trade policies have contributed to record trade deficits and the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs, supporters believe they have the votes to reject any effort to deny the request.
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In a letter to congressional leaders about the extension, Bush did not mention the trade deficits, which last year hit an all-time high of $617 billion.
He said it was important for the economy to continue to pursue bilateral free-trade agreements and multilateral trade deals, including the current round of talks held under the auspices of the 148-nation World Trade Organization (WTO).
Separately yesterday, the Bush administration accused 61 countries and groups of nations of having significant trade barriers that harm U.S. manufacturers and farmers.
The government’s 672-page report on trade barriers is designed to guide U.S. negotiators over the next year in their efforts to attack barriers seen as doing the most damage to American companies.
If direct talks fail to produce results, the administration can bring cases before the WTO to deal with barriers that the United States believes violate WTO rules.
The report has been prepared annually for 20 years under legislation requiring the executive branch to report on which countries were erecting the most-harmful barriers to U.S. exports.
As usual, the report devoted the most coverage — 58 pages — to China. The report said China was failing to enforce its laws against the theft of American movies, computer software and other intellectual property.
The United States posted an imbalance of $162 billion with China last year. That was the largest deficit ever with a single country.
American manufacturers say China’s most-harmful trade practice is Beijing’s policy of linking its currency directly to the dollar. This practice has undervalued the yuan by as much as 40 percent, giving Chinese companies a tremendous competitive advantage, according to U.S. businesses.