tampabay.com

Democrats put stamp on U.S. trade agreements

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 11, 2007


WASHINGTON - Congressional Democratic leaders announced Thursday that they had forged new trade policy guidelines with the administration that will elevate labor and environmental rights to key components in future free trade agreements.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flanked by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, said the agreement signaled "a giant step forward" in advancing U.S. economic interests without sacrificing U.S. workers and the environment.

The new policy will apply immediately to pending free trade agreements with Peru and Panama. It will also become a part of trade accords with South Korea and Colombia, although lawmakers said other issues, such as violence in Colombia, must be dealt with before Congress can consider those agreements.

In a statement, President Bush said the agreement "provides a clear path for advancing" all four trade deals.

A majority of Democrats have opposed most bilateral free trade agreements in recent years, contending that the deals negotiated by the administration were weak in requiring trading partners to address such issues as child labor, workplace discrimination and environmental degradation.

With the Democratic takeover of Congress, the new majority made clear that no trade agreement would move forward without progress on those issues.

Schwab said the deal was "a historic bipartisan breakthrough."

Highlights

New trade policy guidelines

- Require free-trade-agreement countries to adopt and enforce laws that abide by basic international labor standards.

- Make it easier for poor people in trading-partner countries to get access to cheaper generic drugs.

- Require Peru to take steps to crack down on illegal logging.

- Give the United States full, nonchallengeable authority to prevent foreign companies from operating U.S. ports.