(Aug. 5) After an eight-year absence, trade promotion authority will again be in the hands of the U.S. president.

After passage of a sweeping trade bill, President Bush will have the authority to craft trade agreements and bring them to Congress for an up or down vote.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the Bush administration will move ahead aggressively on free trade negotiations with Chile and Singapore, a new round of World Trade Organization trade liberalization talks and talks to establish a free trade zone in the Western Hemisphere.

The Senate voted 64-34 Aug. 1 to approve the conference report on trade promotion authority. The House of Representatives, early the morning of July 27, had approved the bill on a 215-212 vote.

The trade package also includes renewal of a program offering lower tariffs on asparagus and other goods to the four Andean states of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia and another program under which the president can give preferential duty treatment to developing countries.

The trade bill also includes a $12 billion plan to provide assistance to U.S. workers who lose their jobs because of trade deals. While Republicans had reservations about the cost of worker protection, Democrats said they didn’t go far enough. What’s more, Democrats argued that past free trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, cost thousands of American jobs.

Beginning in 1974 every president has had that authority, but Congress refused former President Clinton’s requests to restore the power after it expired in 1994.

Industry leaders had mixed feelings about the success of the Bush administration’s quest.

DISILLUSIONMENT

It was a difficult fight, since many elements of U.S. industry and some produce industry leaders did not like the results from the NAFTA and the Uruguay Round talks of the WTO.

Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash., said the fight for trade promotion authority reflected disillusionment with trade agreements of the 1990s.

Keeping trade promotion authority will depend on the success of multilateral and bilateral trade negotiations, he said.

“If this package is not deemed to help agriculture producers, then it may well be impossible renew trade promotion authority in five years,” he said.

INTO PRACTICE SOON

Mary Kay Thatcher, director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation, Washington, D.C., said the debate over trade promotion authority is not just theory.

“The WTO agricultural negotiations are scheduled to end in March. The U.S. needs to be in a leadership role,” she said.

Camille Hukari, president of Rodacamar Farms, Inc., Hood River, Ore., said she believes the Bush administration knows the importance of U.S. agriculture in trade negotiations.

While she said she is concerned about giving Bush a blank check at the negotiating table with no congressional oversight, she said she believes he and his negotiating team will remember the importance of agriculture.

“I’m going to be optimistic, though I may regret having said that ,” she said.