Congressional leaders warn Clinton on trade pacts
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican congressional leaders urged President Clinton Monday not to rush into free trade agreements with Singapore and Chile before leaving office on Jan. 20 as his administration makes headway toward pacts with the two nations.
In a letter, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott and House Speaker Dennis Hastert pledged to work with Democrats "to reach a compromise" on how to handle labor and environmental concerns raised by trade agreements that have divided Republicans and Democrats in the past.
Previous trade pacts have seen Democrats aligned with labor, which wants greater protections for workers and the environment, against Republicans who generally agreed with business concerns that such provisions are too costly and could impede trade, especially if enforced by sanctions.
The Republicans argued in their letter the administration's current efforts to include controversial labor and environmental provisions in the Singapore and Chile trade pacts would "severely undermine the ability of the next president to craft a bipartisan trade program."
The letter was also signed by incoming Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer of Texas and other leaders.
The United States and Singapore began free trade talks earlier this month with the goal of completing by the end of the year. But the talks are now expected to stretch into 2001.
And although free trade talks with Chile have been on a speedy timetable since they were announced Nov. 29, it is far from clear the administration can get agreements with either country before Jan. 20, when President-elect George W. Bush is inaugurated.
The agreements would have to be ratified by lawmakers.
U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky met with Chilean Foreign Affairs Minister Soledad Alvear in early December for an organizational meeting and will go to Santiago next month for follow-up talks.
The Clinton administration hopes to use the two agreements as a catalyst for other trade pacts, including the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement that would cover 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere.
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