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Bentsen to Unveil Bill Calling for Trade Sanctions

Times Staff Writer

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) will unveil a trade proposal today that would rewrite existing laws to require the White House to impose sanctions against foreign countries in nearly all cases where there are clear violations of trade agreements, staff members said Monday.

But the bill stops well short of requiring the Administration to retaliate against countries that run large trade surpluses with the United States, an approach that was approved by the House last year but died in the Senate because of White House opposition and lawmakers’ focus on tax reform.

The new bill--co-sponsored by Sen. John C. Danforth of Missouri, the top Republican in the Senate on trade issues--represents a bipartisan, moderate “starting point” for trade legislation this year, according to one aide.

Avoiding ‘Slippery Slope’

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Bentsen refused to include a number of measures aimed at protecting certain hard-hit industries, such as textiles and shoes, against foreign competition. “We don’t want to go down that slippery slope,” a senior committee aide said. The Administration has opposed such measures, contending that quotas and tariffs on foreign imports only encourage retaliation from other countries.

Another staff member acknowledged, however, that Bentsen is “under tremendous pressure” to accept certain industry-sponsored provisions to win political backing from lawmakers representing regions of the country where firms have been devastated by international competition. “We expect a vigorous debate,” the committee aide said. “He could end up going along with some industry-specific measures if that’s the price to get a bill.”

Earlier Proposal Similar

The bill follows the outlines of earlier legislation sponsored by Danforth when the Republicans controlled the Senate, but includes a number of additional measures designed to open foreign markets to U.S. goods.

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The basic provisions include:

--Giving the Administration authorization to conduct multilateral trade liberalization negotiations for 10 years beyond January, 1988, when the current congressional authorization is scheduled to expire. Such negotiations designed to reduce tariffs and eliminate trade barriers are just getting under way in Geneva this year and are expected to last for several years.

--Providing for congressional “fast-track” approval of any trade agreements once Congress adopts a White House-submitted statement of trade policy. Under the “fast-track” approach, lawmakers would not be able to modify a trade agreement or amend the bill.

--Changing trade laws to make it harder for the White House to avoid retaliation against unfair trade practices. The President now has the authority to reject any sanctions recommended by the Commerce Department and International Trade Commission. Under the bill, he could only reject such sanctions if they would threaten national security or harm another U.S. industry.

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Restructuring Mandated

--Requiring industries granted relief against imports to adopt a plan approved by the International Trade Commission for a long-term restructuring to make it more competitive in world markets.

--Expanding the aid program for workers who lose their jobs because of foreign competition, but rejecting a White House proposal to extend aid to all dislocated workers regardless of the reasons they lost their jobs.

The bill also includes a number of narrower measures, including provisions to expand agricultural exports.

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