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House OKs trade bill with distinct Democratic stamp. Though not last word, it is likely to influence Senate

By Peter OsterlundStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 23, 1986



Washington

The Democrat-dominated US House of Representatives has passed a trade-protection bill that directly challenges President Reagan's cherished trade goals. A third of the House Republicans (59) joined most of the Democrats in approving, 295 to 115, a measure that the President has repeatedly promised to veto. Although the House-passed bill is considered unlikely to reach the President's desk, observers say it is likely to influence significantly the shape of any trade legislation that emerges from Congress this year.

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Even before it passed, President Reagan had denounced the trade bill as ``openly and rankly political.'' In a speech yesterday to the American Retail Federation he said the bill's adoption would plunge the world into a trade war and disrupt relations with allies.

Mr. Reagan blasted the House Democratic leadership for the bill but made no mention of the fact that dozens of Republicans had defected to support its provisions.

Presidential spokesman Larry Speakes called the measure ``an A-1 candidate for veto.''

Democrats easily fended off repeated Republican efforts during two days of debate to weaken the bill, intended to force the President to retaliate against other countries' unfair trading practices. Republicans branded the legislation as sharply protectionist, and said that some of its provisions would invite retaliation from other countries.

The bill has been accompanied by vocal Republican criticism during the past few weeks as large portions of it were assembled in Democrat-controlled House committees. The bill that finally emerged yesterday would require the President to respond with retaliatory action (such as tariffs or quotas) if:

Foreign nations violate existing trade agreements or engage in ``unjustifiable'' trade practices.

Foreign nations ``target'' certain export industries for subsidies and other support, as Japan has done in electronics, machine tools, and other industries.

Other countries build up ``excessive'' trade surpluses with the United States through unfair trade practices and fail to negotiate a reduction.

Efforts to open up foreign telecommunications markets fail to provide fully competitive market opportunities for US firms.

The House measure also contains provisions that would strengthen existing laws to protect US patents and copyrights, create a $300 million war chest to help US exporters counter certain foreign subsidies, and cite the denial of internationally recognized workers' rights as ''unreasonable'' trade practices. The margin of victory underscores the politicization of the trade issue in this election year. Few observers expect the Republican-controlled Senate, which has begun work on its own bill, to produce anything resembling the House measure.

Democrats perceive the Republicans to be vulnerable on the trade issue, and they are seeking to make hay with it in the fall election. President Reagan's advocacy of free trade even as the US trade deficit has shot up 600 percent, to $148.5 billion in 1985, does not sit well with many voters, Democratic leaders say.

Some Republicans apparently agree. GOP lawmakers were said to have broken ranks yesterday because they did not want to face voters this fall without having supported a trade bill.