July 25, 2006

Senate to start on Vietnam, Peru trade bills

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate Finance Committee granted
U.S. business groups two wishes on Tuesday by announcing plans
to begin work on Vietnam and Peru trade bills later this week.

Business groups have been worried the trade bills could
fall victim to the tight legislative schedule ahead of the U.S.
congressional elections in November.

The collapse of world trade talks in Geneva on Monday also
has intensified interest in showing the rest of the world the
United States has other trade options.

Republicans on the House of Representatives Ways and Means
Committee last week pushed through a draft bill to implement a
free trade agreement with Peru, with Democrats voting no.

Senate Finance Committee action on Thursday would set the
stage for Congress to move toward final votes on the Peru
agreement after the August congressional recess.

However, some observers believe a vote could be delayed
until a lame duck session after the November elections because
of strong opposition to the Peru pact.

Business groups want congressional approval of a bill
establishing "permanent normal trade relations" with Vietnam as
soon after the August recess as possible.

That's driven partly by Hanoi's desire to be a member of
the World Trade Organization by the time it hosts the annual
APEC summit meeting in November. That requires the United
States to approve PNTR.

Senate Finance Committee action would be a step toward that
goal. House Republicans have indicated they may not take up
Vietnam until after the Peru bill is done.