Jordan trade deal hits snag in US Congress
A landmark US-Jordan free trade deal hit a snag in Congress on Tuesday, July 17, as a prominent Republican senator threatened to block a vote on ratification, objecting to the pact's labor and environmental provisions.
Senator Phil Gramm of Texas said he could use procedural means to stop the bill from reaching the Senate floor as his amendment targeting the two clauses was voted down by the Senate Finance Committee.
Heated debate over Gramm's objections stalled plans for a vote, which would have sent the deal ― reached by the Clinton administration last year ― to the Senate floor for ratification.
The pact is seen as a model for future US free trade pacts, but that worries some Republican senators, as it is the first such deal to carry specific labor and environmental guarantees ― measures long sought by trade unions.
Gramm claimed the US-Jordan deal would allow an international dispute panel to adjudicate whether future US environmental and labor standards deteriorate ― and then allow Jordan to impose punitive sanctions.
Such a panel could preclude Congress from changing US law ― for instance, to authorize the opening of nature reserves for oil exploration ― and so dilute US sovereignty, he argued. "I don't take a back seat to any living human being in my commitment to trade. I am for it," said Gramm. "But we are in a situation where we could literally pass a portion of American sovereignty over lawmaking to an international tribunal."
But Democrats say Gramm's objections are immaterial, arguing that the dispute panel provided for under the deal would be appointed only by Jordan and the United States and is therefore not a remote international body.
They also say the panel could OK sanctions only if it was proven that standards were lowered specifically to damage Jordanian trade, an unlikely prospect.
The committee's chairman, Democratic Senator Max Baucus, said the pact was a reward for Jordan's commitment to US peacemaking efforts in the Middle East and should be passed as soon as possible.
The deal is a "strong signal of support for a valued ally in the Middle East," he said, before the committee voted 12-9 to defeat Gramm's amendment. A final vote on sending the Jordan trade deal for ratification in the Senate was delayed, as the required quorum of 11 senators was not present for a vote.
The agreement would eliminate all tariffs on two-way trade in goods and services over a 10-year period, an arrangement the United States currently has with only three other countries: Canada, Mexico and Israel. ― (AFP, Washington)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)