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Bush Doha Success Requires Fast Track Authority January 31, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Politics, US News, White House.
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WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–President George W. Bush Wednesday pledged to work hard to complete the stalled Doha trade talks round, but said Congress needs to extend his fast-track trade negotiating authority if the talks are to be brought to a successful conclusion.

“The only way America can complete Doha and make headway on other trade agreements is to extend trade promotion authority,” Bush said during a speech in New York. “I ask Congress to renew it.”

With fast-track authority, which is set to expire at the end of June, Bush can submit trade agreements to Congress for an up-or-down vote, without amendments. If the fast-track power isn’t reauthorized, the administration will face a much more difficult time resuscitating the dormant Doha talks.

Those talks have been stalled since last summer, largely because of differences over subsidies the U.S. government pays its farmers and high tariffs the European Union and other countries use to keep foreign competitors out of their markets.

Bush said the White House hasn’t given up on the negotiations, which are aimed at cutting global barriers to trade in manufacturing, services and farm products.

“Global trade talks like Doha have the potential to lower trade barriers around the world. They come around once every decade or so,” Bush said. “We’re going to work hard to complete it. We’re dedicated to making sure we have a successful Doha round.”

With Democrats in control of Congress, however, the White House faces a more difficult challenge on its trade agenda. Trade deals with Peru, Colombia and Panama have been finalized, but still need to be enacted by lawmakers. The new Congress is likely to demand more stringent labor and environmental protections before passage.

Democrats signaled this week that they will renew Bush’s trade promotion authority, but only if it is accompanied by safeguards for workers.

And on Wednesday, House Foreign Relations Chairman Tom Lantos, D-Calif., urged U.S. trade representative Susan Schwab to immediately suspend free trade talks with Malaysia over a $16 billion petroleum deal the country’s SKS Ventures has signed with Iran.

Bush, discussing trade for the second straight day, pressed lawmakers to turn away from protectionism.

“I know there’s going to be a vigorous debate on trade,” he said. “Bashing trade can make for good sound bites on the evening news, but walling off America from world trade would be a disaster for our economy”

Schwab backed Bush’s call for trade promotion authority, saying it “has led to market-opening trade agreements over the last five years that have benefited America’s farmers, manufacturers, service providers, workers and consumers.”

House Republican Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., agreed: “If we abandon trade promotion authority at this critical time, the Doha Round will never be completed and American farmers, manufacturers, and service providers will lose the chance to achieve market access in a comprehensive way.”

Bush’s remarks on Wall Street Wednesday were billed a “state of the economy” address, a chance for him to report on the condition of the economy and follow up on initiatives unveiled during last week’s State of the Union speech. Though 60% of Americans aren’t happy with Bush’s handling of the economy, according to the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, he touted the country’s sturdy growth, low inflation and unemployment and healthy stock markets, giving much of the credit to the administration’s tax cuts.

“The state of our economy is strong,” Bush said “There is one undisputed leader in the world in terms of economy, and that’s the United States of America.”

Earlier Wednesday, the U.S. Commerce Department said the economy rebounded in the fourth quarter of 2006, growing at a 3.5% annual rate after the third quarter’s 2.0% pace.

The president’s speech contained no new initiatives. Rather, Bush renewed his call for earmark reform and a line-item veto, and repeated proposals on energy independence and healthcare reform. He said he’s “hopeful” Republicans and Democrats can get together to tackle entitlement reform.

He also used his Wall Street platform to prod companies to be more responsible about the compensation they provide to top executives. He touted new Securities and Exchange Commission rules that bring transparency to compensation, but said the government shouldn’t get involved in setting pay levels.

“The salaries and bonuses of CEOs should be based on their success in improving their companies and bringing value to their shareholders,” Bush said. “America’s corporate board rooms must step up to their responsibilities. You need to pay attention to the executive compensation packages you approve. You need to show the world that America’s businesses are a model of transparency and good corporate governance.”

After the address, Bush visited the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, where he was surrounded by enthusiastic traders.

By Henry J. Pulizzi, Dow Jones Newswires

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