WASHINGTON —The Distilled Spirits Council applauded passage of the Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority Act of 2001 (H.R. 3005), on Dec. 6th in the U.S. House of Representatives 215-214, calling the legislation key to opening foreign markets to American spirits products. Meanwhile, on Dec. 18th, the Senate Finance Committee passed its version of the bill, 18-3, and Majority Leader Tom Daschle has indicated that he will schedule it for a vote after the Senate reconvenes later this month. The legislation would require Congress to consider trade agreements on a straight “up-or-down” vote, without amendments. The process, formerly known as “fast track” authority, lapsed in 1994, putting U.S. trade policy on hold and permitting foreign competitors to gain considerable advantages in markets around the globe. “Trade promotion authority is crucial to negotiating market-opening agreements and reduced tariffs for U.S. products of all kinds,” said Council senior vice president Deborah Lamb. “It gives the President the authority and the mandate to strike the best possible deals for American industry, agriculture and workers. Lamb applauded the close House vote to pass the bill, but said that important legislative hurdles remain in rectifying the House and Senate versions of the bill before final passage in both houses can occur. “Unfortunately, since the trade authority lapsed seven years ago, countries have generally refused to sign trade pacts for fear of a barrage of undercutting amendments in Congress,” stated Lamb, formerly chief minority trade counsel on the Senate Finance Committee. “Sadly, the result has left U.S. trade policy ‘on hold’ and U.S. businesses at a significant commercial disadvantage, while our foreign competitors have steadily advanced in some of our major markets,” she added. Lamb cited the case of the Mercosur countries, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, where European free-trade negotiations are at an advanced stage. Once concluded, their spirits products will enter those countries duty-free. In contrast, U.S. spirits products will continue to face a stiff 23 percent tariff. Another example is Chile, where Canadian Whisky and Mexican Tequila benefit from a free trade agreement, while American products continue to be slapped with an eight percent tariff. “These are just a few recent examples that translate into significant disadvantages and lost opportunities for U.S. companies,” Lamb stated. “In a time of global economic slowdown, it’s quite simple: Trade Promotion Authority is crucial to American competitiveness abroad and economic growth at home.” The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States is the national trade association representing the producers and marketers of distilled spirits sold in America and throughout the world.