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Bush Asks for 'Fast Track' Trade Authority - 2001-08-01

With America's economy continuing to slow, President Bush wants Congress to give him broad powers to negotiate trade deals with other countries. He is facing opposition from lawmakers who fear the power would help big business at the expense of protecting environmental and labor standards abroad.

The president's first months in office have seen America's weakest economic growth in eight years. Manufacturing declined for the 12th consecutive month in July over industrial concerns about higher energy prices and a reluctance to make new investments. Consumer confidence is down.

With total goods and services expanding by less than 1 percent, President Bush says the economy needs a push. Part of that is $40 billion worth of tax refunds that he says will help fuel an economic revival.

"Economic growth has been slow," says Mr. Bush. "It has not been up to standard. The economy is puttering along. It is not nearly as strong as it should be. And what the tax cut does by sending money back to the American working people it provides an incredibly important boost to economic vitality and economic growth."

President Bush says tax cuts alone are not enough to revive the economy. He wants what is called fast-track trade promotion authority to negotiate foreign trade deals then send them to Congress for a simple "yes" or "no" vote without amendment.

U.S. presidents first had that authority in 1974, but when it expired in 1994, former President Clinton failed twice to get a Republican-controlled Congress to renew it. Now President Bush wants legislators to restore that power before the next World Trade Organization Summit in November.

"I am one of the few presidents never to have had that authority," said Mr. Bush. "I am asking Congress to give it to me for the good of the American people, for the good of the agricultural sector, so that I can use my efforts to knock down the trade barriers, the protectionist tendencies around the world that prevent our products from getting into markets."

Opponents fear the president would use sweeping trade authority to benefit business allies at the expense of environmental and workplace protections. U.S. labor unions are running television ads urging lawmakers to oppose the bill.

Congressional Democrats want the fast track authority to include requirements disqualifying countries that lower labor or environmental standards to make their products cheaper. The Bush administration says it is important to protect overseas workers and the environment, but not as part of the trade bill.

The president says engaging foreign governments in business deals can help foster political freedoms. Nowhere is that more important for his administration than China. "I believe a country that trades with the rest of the world is a country more likely to embrace freedom," added Mr. Bush. "I also know that by opening up Chinese markets to American foodstuffs it will be beneficial to American farmers."

President Bush says boosting agricultural exports is at the heart of his push for fast track trade authority. In the last three years, American farmers have received more than $25 billion in assistance. This year, the Agriculture Department predicts another fall in net farm income, nearly $3 billion below last year's levels.