Democrats in US complain of delay in FTA text release

Martin Crutsinger
AP Economics Writer,1280,-2463525,00.html

WASHINGTON (AP)–The Bush administration on Friday released the full text of its free trade agreement with Singapore and promised to make the complete text of its free trade deal with Chile available by the
end of March.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said, “These are first-rate, leading edge agreements that will benefit American workers, farmers, consumers and industry.”

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, the congressional panel with jurisdiction in trade matters, complained that the administration had needlessly delayed releasing the Singapore text and was still dragging its feet by not releasing the Chile agreement until the end of this month.

Under procedures of the trade promotion authority Congress approved last summer, the president must notify Congress of his intention to enter into a trade agreement at least 90 days before he signs it.

After the president signs the agreement, it cannot be changed. The measure then is taken up by the House and Senate under expedited procedures that require an up or down vote without amendments.

Reps. Sander Levin, D-Mich., and Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said the administration’s delay in releasing the texts meant the public would have less time to review the documents before they are signed by President Bush.

“So much of the 90-day period for public input has gone by that it is already too late for the public’s views to be heard by the Bush administration,” Levin said Friday.

“Important provisions that affect the environment and working conditions are no secret to the foreigners with whom we negotiate the agreements, just to the press and public,” Doggett said.

The United States has free trade agreements with Mexico and Canada, its partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement, and with Israel and Jordan, deals that were struck in an effort to promote economic development in the Mideast.

The administration has said it hopes the Singapore and Chile deals will be just the first in a string of agreements with countries in Africa, Central America and Australia. Its biggest goal is creation of a free trade zone covering 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere.

The Singapore agreement spells out the timetables for removing all barriers to trade between the United States and the small island nation in Southeast Asia over the next decade.

Critics of free trade said the Bush administration was repeating the mistake made by the Clinton administration when it struck a free trade agreement with Mexico. NAFTA, they said, failed to get enough protection for American workers against unfair competition from a country where workers were paid far less and products were made more cheaply because of lax environmental protections.

“We were told NAFTA would be good for a whole list of things, from human rights to the environment, and that has proven to be wrong,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

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