June 21, 2006

Business groups push for votes on trade bills

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. business groups hope to
persuade congressional leaders to schedule votes on trade
agreements with Oman, Peru and Vietnam as quickly as possible,
a lobbyist said on Wednesday.

"There's going to be a letter from the business community
at large going up to the Hill later this week pushing the whole
trade agenda," said Christopher Wenk, trade policy director for
the National Association of Manufacturers.

House of Representatives Majority Leader John Boehner, an
Ohio Republican, suggested last week that Congress could delay
votes on new trade deals until a special "lame duck" session
after the November congressional election.

He said many members still had bruises from last year's
tough vote on a trade pact with Central America.

Boehner's remarks disappointed business groups, who have
hoped to win approval of all three agreements before Congress
takes its traditional August break.

Over 100 companies and associations have signed the letter
asking for quick action on the trade pacts, Wenk said.

"We would like to see all this done by the end of July, but
I suppose it could slip to September," Wenk said.

The Bush administration is expected to soon send Congress
legislation to implement the U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement,
indicating there will be a vote on that next month, Wenk said.

Business groups will ask Congress to at least hold hearings
on a Peru free trade agreement, even if they can't complete
action before the August break, he said.

"There is definitely an urgency with Vietnam because
President (George W.) Bush is going to Hanoi in November" for
the annual APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) leaders
meeting, Wenk said.

The pact paves the way for Vietnam to join the World Trade
Organization. In exchange for Hanoi's commitment to lower
barriers that block imports of goods and services, the United
States must approve "permanent normal trade relations" by
removing a Cold War trade measure.

The United States' former enemy has set a goal of becoming
a WTO member by the time it hosts the APEC summit.