Vietnam-US Pact Likely in Congress by June 4
The Bush administration has indicated it will send a widely supported but long-delayed trade agreement with Vietnam to the US Congress for a vote within the next week, a congressional aide said on Tuesday.
US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told Sen. John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, on Friday that the bilateral trade agreement (BTA) signed by both countries last July in Hanoi would come to Congress by Monday, June 4, the aide said.
"Kerry talked to him on Friday and indeed Zoellick indicated that it would come up early June, by the 4th," the Democratic Senate aide, who is knowledgeable about the issue but asked not to be named, told Reuters. It could be passed by August or earlier, the aide said.
The office of the USTR could not confirm the report.
President Bush has been facing pressure from a growing group of lawmakers, including Sen. Charles Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee which will handle the legislation, to send up the historic agreement quickly.
The administration had hoped to tie the popular pact to a more controversial bill to give the White House broad new trade negotiating authority, which could delay it for years.
But congressional sources have been saying in recent days that the administration was rethinking that position.
The Vietnamese have chafed at the wait. The trade pact, negotiated over four years, would give Vietnam "normal trade relations" status and lead to a cut in tariffs on Vietnamese textiles from around 60 percent to around five percent.
Vice-Foreign Minister Chu Tuan Cap told Reuters in Vietnam on Tuesday ratification was in both countries' interests.
The timing of the pact's arrival has been complicated by "Jackson-Vanik" provisions on Vietnam which Bush must decide whether to waive by June 3.
The waiver, granted for the last three years under former President Bill Clinton, would allow US companies to continue receiving US Export-Import Bank loans and other aid to do business in Vietnam.
The bilateral trade pact carries with it so-called fast-track procedures aiming at getting it to a final vote quickly.
Under those procedures, the pact must be moved out of committee within 45 congressional working days and then be voted on by the full houses within another 15 congressional working days. No amendments are allowed.
"Under the terms of the law it moves fairly expeditiously. I think senate finance will act pretty quickly once it comes up here, I think probably the second week in June," the aide said. "Generally... the votes are here and the votes are on the House side as well."
The United States and Vietnam reestablished diplomatic relations in 1995, two decades after the end of the Vietnam War -- WASHINGTON (Reuters)
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