AFL-CIO Aims to Recast Trade Authority; Puts Forth Plan Giving Congress More Control

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Byline: Steve Hirsch, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The AFL-CIO yesterday announced its plans to defeat renewal of "trade promotion authority," which allows President Bush to submit trade agreements to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendment.

Speaking to reporters from Las Vegas, where the labor organization's executive council is holding its winter meeting, AFL-CIO officials outlined what they said was a plan to strengthen the role of Congress in setting trade policy.

"This is a serious fight, it's not a casual clash, it will be a serious fight for the entire labor movement," AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Richard Trumka said.

The AFL-CIO will devote "very significant" resources to head off extension of the president's authority, he said.

The Bush administration and many business organizations support extension of trade promotion authority, which expires June 30, as necessary for the completion of the World Trade Organization's current round of talks and of bilateral free-trade agreements, such as pending pacts with Colombia, Panama, Peru, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea.

Labor unions and many Democrats blame current trade agreements negotiated under trade promotion authority, including the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiated under PresidentClinton, for the record U.S. trade deficit, which reached $764 billion last year.

In what AFL-CIO policy director Thea M. Lee stressed was not a call for a revision of trade promotion authority, but a change in the relationship between Congress and the president on trade policy, the labor federation is calling for a review of current trade agreements before any new trade talks are started and a congressional role in choosing trade-agreement partners.

Congress, the resolution says, should lay out criteria to assess countries that are potential trade-agreement partners. Those criteria should include economic opportunities available for U.S. workers, firms and farmers, a country's compliance with International Labor Organization standards, international environmental agreements, fundamental human rights and the presence of a democratic government. …