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IN THE NEWS - U.S. Trade Bill

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The United States Congress has passed a new trade bill. The Senate passed the bill Thursday by a vote of sixty to thirty-four. Opposition was stronger in the House of Representatives where the bill passed by only three votes. It has gone to President Bush to be signed.

The bill gives the president and United States trade representatives what is called "fast track" power on trade negotiation issues. That means they will have more freedom to negotiate trade agreements.

The bill limits congressional debate on trade agreements brought before it. Lawmakers have to vote on the agreements within ninety days. Also, they no longer are permitted to make changes to the agreements. They have to accept or reject the agreement as it is written.

The new trade bill requires that the administration communicate with congressional committees while trade negotiations are being held. The bill says the administration must consider the protection of workers' rights and the environment as negotiating goals. And, negotiators have to consider United States laws designed to fight unfair business activities by foreign countries.

Yet, the bill only requires these issues be considered during trade negotiations. It does not demand that negotiators honor the goals in reaching agreements.

Congress first passed fast track legislation in nineteen-seventy-four. American presidents enjoyed the power for the next twenty years. In nineteen-ninety-four, Congress voted against extending the power to then president, Bill Clinton. Lawmakers of Mister Clinton's Democratic party led the opposition to the legislation. They argued that more congressional control in trade issues would help protect workers rights and the environment.

Democrats led the opposition to this latest fast track bill. And they won some compromises. For example, the bill provides more than one-thousand-million dollars yearly for health insurance and other aid to United States workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition. The bill also guarantees help for some workers whose factories are moved to foreign countries.

The new trade bill could help a number of South American countries. It includes the Andean Trade Preference that offers lower import taxes to Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. However, the countries must show that they are taking steps to fight trade in illegal drugs.

President Bush says he will sign the trade bill into law next week. It will be in effect for five years. Mister Bush says the bill will open markets and create jobs for American workers and farmers. American Trade Representative Robert Zoellic campaigned hard for the bill. He argued that countries refuse to negotiate with him while lawmakers can interfere with the terms he negotiates.

This VOA Special English program In The News was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.

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