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News Briefs, part 2

Gephardt Bill Sets Trade `Goals' for NAFTA

The Washington Post

House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., in an effort to put teeth into enforcement of the North American Free Trade Agreement, said Monday he would introduce legislation to impose goals and timetables on U.S. trading partners to ensure they meet labor and environmental standards.

Gephardt said the bill would give the United States confidence that its trading partners were making progress toward meeting their commitments.

Although the legislation would apply to all trading partners, the clear target of Monday's announcement was Mexico and the side agreements it negotiated with the United States on labor and environmental standards as part of NAFTA. Labor and environmental groups have complained the agreements were largely unenforceable.

The legislation would amend U.S. trade law but not change NAFTA, which created a free-trade zone with Mexico and Canada.

Introduction of the trade amendment could serve two purposes, one economic and the other political. It would provide a potential mechanism for punishing low-wage importers that violate international labor standards that might unfairly underprice U.S. producers. At the same time, it would offer an opportunity for congressional Democrats who voted for NAFTA to try and make amends with organized labor, which is threatening to withhold support to anyone who supported the agreement.

It was not clear whether the White House would support the Gephardt proposal, which was announced at Monday's meeting of the AFL-CIO executive council. But presidential senior counselor George Stephanopoulos, appearing here, said that while he had not seen the specific proposal, President Clinton has supported the inclusion of workers' rights as part of the global trade pact called the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Stephanopoulos commented on the Gephardt proposal after meeting with the executive council.

Some Strains of Pneumonia Close to Being Incurable

Los Angeles Times

The world is just one antibiotic away from having incurable bacterial pneumonia, according to a leading antibiotic researcher.

Some of the bacteria that cause pneumonia have acquired resistance against nearly all the available antibiotic drugs, transforming themselves into "what we must call a new species," Dr. Alexander Tomasz told scientists gathered here for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"We have been living in an era when if you got sick, there was always a pill to take," the Rockefeller University scientist said Friday. "And we are approaching an era when that will no longer be true."

Every year, common pneumococcal pneumonia kills 40,000 to 50,000 Americans, most of them elderly or with depressed immune systems. But most of the several million pneumococcal infections Americans suffer every year are cured with antibiotics.

But now, all over the world there are mutant strains of bacteria that are resistant to every antibiotic except vancomycin.