US FAILS TO GET WEST BANK, GAZA RECIPROCAL PACT

US FAILS TO GET WEST BANK, GAZA RECIPROCAL PACT

The Clinton administration has apparently failed to reach a reciprocal free- trade agreement with Palestinian-controlled West Bank and Gaza, and instead will extend tariff benefits to those territories unilaterally, U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor said Thursday.

In return, the Palestinians have pledged to help end an Arab boycott of Israel, said Mr. Kantor, who will formally announce the trade agreement during a visit to Israel next week."It is critical to economic growth in the region," Mr. Kantor said of the administration's decision.

The 10-year-old U.S. free-trade agreement with Israel will not be extended to Palestinian areas, Mr. Kantor said. Instead, the United States will lower tariffs on some imports from the West Bank and Gaza, he said.

Mr. Clinton cannot deliver on this commitment without approval by Congress. Although trade agreements are often controversial for Congress, the small size of the West Bank and Gaza, combined with the strong support in Congress for the peace process, mean that little opposition is expected.

Nevertheless, the fact that the trade benefits will not be granted in return for duty-free access for U.S. goods may provoke some opposition.

Mr. Kantor said he expects the Palestinian areas, which gained independence

from Israeli occupation just last year, to ship textile and agricultural products to the United States under the new tariff concessions.

The House already has such language included in legislation to give President Bill Clinton the right to negotiate future trade pacts.

However, passage of so-called fast-track legislation has been delayed, while Republicans and Democrats debate whether Clinton should also be allowed to add labor and environmental side agreements to future trade pacts.