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Clinton to Push Hard for Fast-Track Trade Legislation Favoring Labor

By Art Pine
Los Angeles Times
EDGARTOWN, Mass.

President Clinton hinted on Saturday he may offer modest concessions to labor groups to help win support for his controversial "fast-track" trade legislation but said he intends to push hard for the measure, even if they remain opposed.

Clinton said the new trade negotiations that the fast-track bill would authorize are needed to boost U.S. exports and raise living standards.

"If we don't seize these new opportunities, our competitors surely will," he warned in his weekly radio address, broadcast from Martha's Vineyard, Mass., where he is vacationing.

The president's cautious wording suggested that he is unlikely to grant opponents' demands that he make labor and environmental standards an integral part of any new trade accords that the administration negotiates, instead of confining them to side-agreements.

Labor and environmental leaders complain that such adjunct accords often are ignored by other nations, even signatories.

Clinton did indicate that the administration may seek to placate labor by offering to expand job training programs for workers who have been displaced by competition from abroad.Officials said such a move is under consideration, although no decisions have been made.

The president's remarks were designed to pave the way for an expected full-scale White House campaign for the fast-track legislation, which it is slated to send to Capitol Hill next month.

Fast-track authority, which essentially would guarantee that Congress will act quickly to approve or reject any new trade accord and not try to amend specific provisions, has long been demanded by U.S. trading partners before they will begin negotiations.

The authority has been granted to both Republican and Democratic administrations since 1974, but it expired in 1994, after approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

The administration tried to renew the fast-track authority in 1995, but the bill failed in the Republican-controlled Congress because of a dispute over a bid by liberal Democrats to require that labor and environmental issues be part of the main agreement in future trade accords.

Administration officials concede that the proposal for fast-track legislation is certain to be controversial.

Lawmakers already are sharply split over the trade issue, and congressional strategists who have counted votes warn that the tally in both houses is apt to be close and heated.

Organized labor is planning to mount its own campaign against fast-track legislation in early September, with both the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO preparing to launch grass-roots "educational" efforts to drum up opposition.