Byline: Jeffrey Sparshott, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Bush administration would consider breaking off free-trade talks with Thailand if the two sides appear unlikely to finish the deal early this year, a U.S. trade official said yesterday after the sixth round of negotiations between the nations.
"If both sides decided they wanted to redouble their efforts, they could conclude in the time we have left. We have to determine if both sides have the will," Barbara Weisel, an assistant U.S. trade representative, said from Bangkok.
An end to talks would be an unusual turn for trade negotiations, which often drag on for years but have not in recent memory been broken off entirely.
The administration is concerned that prolonged talks would delay the opening of free-trade negotiations with another Asian nation, likely South Korea or Malaysia. It has set an informal deadline of this spring to finish the Thailand pact, and faces a practical deadline of early 2007 to wrap up any other trade deals.
Trade Promotion Authority, which gives President Bush the power to negotiate trade deals and submit them to Congress for a yes-or-no vote without amendments, expires in mid-2007. Statutory requirements, such as formal notifications before the deal can be signed and then submitted to Congress for a vote, mean that negotiators have to finish their work months before the law expires.
"We're running out of time here. In order for any other [free trade agreements] to be signed into law, they have to be concluded by January '07 at the latest," said Dan Ikenson, a trade policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank that favors free trade."There's not a whole lot of time, and the administration does want to make progress in Southeast Asia," he said, …