Trade Pact Talks to Speed Up

Article excerpt

President Bush will move quickly this spring to speed negotiations on a free-trade agreement covering the Western Hemisphere, his nominee for U.S. trade representative, Robert Zoellick, told a Senate panel yesterday.

But Mr. Bush first needs a clear signal from Congress that it will reauthorize a law that allows for quick congressional approval of trade agreements, Mr. Zoellick said.

Presidents and prime ministers from North and South America will meet in Quebec City in Canada on April 20 to decide the fate of negotiations to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas.

"President Bush has emphasized that to set a new course in the hemisphere, he needs to hold out the prospect in Quebec City that new trade-promotion authority is on its way," Mr. Zoellick told the Senate Finance Committee during his confirmation hearing.

Mr. Zoellick, a former top State Department official under Secretary James A. Baker and Bush foreign policy adviser during the presidential campaign, was warmly received by senators, who praised his experience in government and the private sector. Because of his prior work, Mr. Zoellick, unlike many Cabinet nominees, was able to jump in and discuss many policy details.

Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said Mr. Zoellick could be confirmed by the end of next week.

During the hearing, Mr. Zoellick outlined a strategy for trade policy that closely resembles the approach he supported while working for Mr. Baker in the early 1990s. The Bush administration, he said, will try to shore up the domestic consensus around trade and globalization and then move aggressively to negotiate both regional and global agreements on expanded trade.

"If confirmed, I will promptly follow up [with Congress] to consider how to re-establish trade promotion authority for the president based on the `fast-track' precedent and the broadest possible support," Mr. Zoellick said.

Fast-track allows the president to negotiate a trade agreement and submit it to Congress for approval on an expedited basis. Congress must approve or reject the pact but may not make changes to it.

Some senators warned that it will not be possible to pass new negotiating authority by the Quebec City summit. But congressional aides said Mr. Grassley is discussing with Bush administration officials how the United States can send a clear signal to other countries in the hemisphere that it is serious about negotiating a free-trade deal. …