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Bush Officials Anxious About Vote on Trade Promotion Authority


With the House of Representatives set to vote Thursday on granting trade promotion authority to President Bush, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says the outcome of the vote is unclear.

Fresh from a negotiating triumph at last month's World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting, Mr. Zoellick is cautious about whether he will achieve a similar victory at home. The House vote on what used to be called fast-track negotiating authority is regarded as the most important Congressional test on trade that the Bush administration is likely to face. A yes vote means that the trade talks that were launched last month in Doha, Qatar can begin in earnest.

Mr. Zoellick says U.S. leadership is at stake. "A grant of trade promotion authority," he said, "will send an extremely powerful signal to our trading partners that the United States is committed to free and open trade. But without TPA [trade promotion authority], our negotiating agenda will be undermined. Shortly after returning from Doha my partner in the EU, trade commissioner Pascal Lamy, pointed out the facts. He said if President Bush doesn't get TPA fairly quickly, then no body will negotiate."

Addressing a conference of business software executives (in Washington), Mr. Zoellick appealed for support. He told the executives they had 24 hours to get their views across to members of Congress. H said, "This group knows better than any in the world that markets, change and opportunity won't wait. These have to be seized in real time. And just as U.S. leadership was essential to the launch of these negotiations, an aggressive, activist approach by the United States is absolutely fundamental to putting together the coalitions and coming with the ideas that will make these negotiations successful."

The software industry supports freer trade, in part, because the Doha round of negotiations promises tougher measures to combat software piracy.

President Bush's Republicans generally support freer trade but the opposition Democrats are split. Many of them oppose free trade and the Democrats in favor say they will go along with TPA only if the President promises to promote tough measures in support of labor rights and the environment.