Thomas Wants House To Pass Morocco Pact Before Break

National Journal Congress Daily
Martin Vaughan
July 2, 2004

House Ways and Means Chairman Thomas announced today he wants to push the U.S.-Morocco free trade agreement to a House vote before Congress adjourns for its six-week summer recess at the end of the month. "The chairman's intention and goal is to move this to the floor [of the House] and off the floor prior to the Democratic National Convention," Thomas said during a full committee hearing on the Morocco trade pact. While Senate Finance Chairman Grassley also wants to move the agreement through the Senate this month, that prospect is much less certain since it has to compete for floor time with other legislative priorities, congressional sources said. "It would be tough, but not impossible" to gain Senate approval of the Morocco deal before the August recess, said one Senate Democratic aide. Trade negotiating authority rules allow for up to 20 hours of Senate debate on each trade agreement, although either side may choose to yield back time. The Morocco trade agreement, which would increase trade flows between the two countries and enshrine tough new protections for copyrighted material and patented pharmaceuticals, has drawn little opposition.

While the size of Morocco's economy means the agreement will have minuscule impact on the overall U.S. economy, it does offer new opportunities in particular for U.S. exporters of corn, wheat and soybean meal. It comes on the heels of the U.S.-Australia free trade agreement, which also enjoys broad support. House Ways and Means is set to formally aprove the Australia deal Thursday, with the full House likely to consider it next week. The Senate is likely to take it up the week of July 19.

Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee ranking member Sander Levin, D-Mich., raised fears that intellectual property protections in the Morocco agreement would restrict the access of ordinary Moroccans to needed medicines. He grilled Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier about a part of the agreement that gives to drug companies a five-year period of exclusivity for test data used in developing and approving drugs. That prevents competitors from using that same test data to bring generic versions of the drugs to market for five years, Allgeier said. "It was one thing to use this in [the Australia agreement] where it wasn't going to have any impact, as Australians can afford these medicines. That's not necessarily true of Morocco," Levin said. But Allgeier countered that the Doha agreement on intellectual property rights and health allows Morocco to issue compulsory licenses for the production of generic drugs in cases of a public health emergency.

Levin also complained that the agreement, like other trade deals negotiated by the Bush administration, does not require Morocco to bring its labor laws up to International Labor Organization standards. But Reps. Phil English, R-Pa., and Paul Ryan, R-Wis., noted that the U.S. bid to negotiate a trade agreement with Morocco had been the catalyst for sweeping labor reforms enacted this year. Those reforms raise the minimum employment age from 12 to 15, reduce the number of hours in the work week and provide for a periodic review of the minimum wage, English said.

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