HOUSE PANEL OKS BILL TO CREATE TRADE AGENCY

HOUSE PANEL OKS BILL TO CREATE TRADE AGENCY

The House Commerce Committee Tuesday approved legislation to create a new government trade agency but another House panel postponed action on the issue.

The Commerce Committee adopted a proposal to merge the U.S. Trade Representative's Office and the Commerce Department's trade functions into a Cabinet-level U.S. Trade Administration - part of legislation to dismantle the department.But the House International Relations Committee, which had been slated Tuesday to vote on its version of a new trade agency, opted to delay its work until Thursday.

The delay was reportedly linked to a request by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, that senior Republican members of the Ways and Means, Commerce and International Relations committees first try to work out their differences over how to create a new trade agency.

The International Relations Committee had been expected to consider two alternatives:merging the U.S. Trade Representative's Office and the Commerce Department's trade functions into a new agency or the creation of an agency that would combine the trade functions of Commerce and other federal agencies while keeping the U.S. Trade Representative independent.

The proposal approved by the Commerce Committee - a variation of a bill sponsored by Rep. John Mica, R-Fla. - would go further than the Mica bill by transferring to the proposed new agency some of the functions of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology.

It differed, too, from the Mica bill by abolishing the Trade and Development Agency, which funds project feasibility studies abroad. The Mica proposal would incorporate TDA within the proposed new trade agency.

The proposal reported by the Commerce Committee, offered by Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, also would abolish the domestic field offices of the Commerce Department's U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, which assist small and medium-sized exporters.

Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee approved yet another version of reorganizing the administration's trade functions. Its bill would preserve but enhance the powers of the U.S. Trade Representative's Office, while establishing a sub-Cabinet U.S. Trade Administration to take over the Commerce Department's present trade responsibilities.