WASHINGTON -- President Bush pledged to Latin America on Tuesday that after he returns from a hemispheric summit he will intensify his effort to get key trade negotiating authority from Congress.
Bush goes to Quebec City on Friday for the Summit of the Americas without so-called fast-track authority -- which Latin nations see as critical to negotiating a Free Trade Area of the Americas, known as FTAA.
The fast-track authority, now called ''new trade promotion authority'' on Capitol Hill, allows the president to negotiate trade agreements with foreign governments without their being subject to amendments by Congress. Congress' role is limited to a final yes-or-no vote.
Bush's father, former President George Bush, had the negotiating Authority but it expired under President Bill Clinton in 1994. Bush has not yet formally requested it from Congress since fast-track authority faces an uphill battle.
Bush went to the Organization of American States' ornate headquarters down the street from the White House to underscore his support for free trade.
The White House billed his appearance as the first time a president made a formal address to the assembled Latin diplomats, although previous presidents have visited.
''Trade promotion authority gives our trading partners confidence that they can rely on the deals that they negotiate,'' Bush said. ''It allows us to seize opportunities to expand the circle of trade and prosperity.''
''We're now actively working with Congress on a strategy for passing legislation granting the trade promotion authority. We will intensify this effort when I return from Quebec, and I'm confident we will succeed,'' Bush said.
The president returns on Sunday from the summit, where he will push a free-trade agenda in talks with leaders of 34 Western Hemisphere nations. OAS leaders said their goal was to open more markets for products from Latin America.
''We do not need help. We need markets,'' said Humberto de la Calle, chairman of the OAS permanent council.
''We cannot claim that democracy is strong everywhere,'' added OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria.
Initial Draft Due Soon
The president said that shortly after the summit, the White House would put out the initial working draft of a free trade agreement for the hemisphere.
''This will allow our citizens from all our countries to see what is being negotiated and give them a chance to provide their views on this important document,'' he said.
Bush, as well as leaders from all Western Hemisphere countries except Cuba, supports having a FTAA completed by 2005.
If and when it is completed, the free trade zone stretching from Alaska to Patagonia would be the world's largest trading bloc, linking nearly 800 million people.
On Capitol Hill, however, there is doubt that Bush will get the fast-track negotiating authority.
Democrats have not supported fast track because they want future trade agreements to take environmental protection and labor standards into account.
''The odds are pretty long on getting it done this year,'' said a Democratic aide on the Senate Finance Committee.
''You'll need a very high-level campaign to get fast track, a very energetic campaign at the top level. I'm just not sure that is shaping up out there. I wouldn't bet the farm on fast track,'' said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, a coalition of U.S. labor, environmental and consumer groups attacked Bush's plans to craft the FTAA, saying it would benefit corporations at the expense of workers and the environment.
At a pre-summit news conference, the groups said they would lobby to block congressional approval of new trade authority.
Robert Cox, president of the Sierra Club, accused Bush of pursuing ''one of the most highly irresponsible trade policies in U.S. history'' by proposing to extend provisions of the 7-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement -- which covers Mexico, Canada and the United States -- to 31 other countries in the hemisphere.
- 110 Trade Justice