A top U.S. trade official visiting Brazil said the Bush Administration will not impose trade sanctions based on labor and environmental considerations. The message is welcome in Brazil, which opposed such a policy under the former Clinton administration.
Assistant Commerce Secretary William Lash is in Brazil meeting with top government officials and members of the business community. His message is that the Bush Administration does not favor using the threat of trade sanctions to force countries to comply with labor and environmental standards.
This had been the policy of the Clinton Administration as it negotiated labor and environmental clauses in the proposed hemisphere-wide Free Trade Area of the Americas.
But Brazil and other countries objected to the Clinton policy, saying the United States would use the labor and environmental clauses in a free trade treaty as a form of protectionism against their products. Many Congressional democrats maintain that workers' rights and environmental quality can only be improved if these clauses are backed up by the threat of sanctions.
But Assistant Secretary Lash made clear on Wednesday that the Bush Administration disagrees. "We're not dropping the clauses per se. The President recognizes labor and the environment are proper negotiating objectives like free trade. But the President has said numerous times that he's not looking for reasons not to trade, he does not favor imposing trade sanctions to promote labor or environmental objectives. He believes the best way of getting improved labor standards, improved workers rights, improved environmental quality is by trading with countries," said Mr. Lash.
The issue is key as the Bush Administration tries to persuade Congress to give it enhanced authority to negotiate trade agreements. Commonly known as Fast Track, it would allow the executive branch to submit a trade treaty to the Congress for approval on a simple up or down vote, without allowing for modifications.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro, Mr. Lash expressed confidence Congress will approve Fast Track legislation, or Trade Promotion Authority as it is known under the Bush Administration.
Brazil and other Latin American countries said little progress will be made in negotiating a Free Trade Area of the Americas until Congress approves the measure. For his part, Mr. Lash acknowledged not having Fast Track authority has been an impediment. "We're fortunate that our trading partners in the FTAA are willing to engage without having Trade Promotion Authority. Obviously if you'd like to go further and get more conclusive results, this is still very open to challenge. Having TPA authority is an essential part of the President's trade agenda," he said. The visit of Mr. Lash to Brazil is the first by a top official from the U.S. Department of Commerce since the Bush Administration took office early this year.