February 11, 2009 / 9:01 PM / 10 years ago

EU seeks further assurances on Buy American plan

WASHINGTON, Feb 11 (Reuters) - The European Union made a last minute appeal to Congress on Wednesday to provide further assurances that EU companies would not be disadvantaged by Buy American provisions of a huge economic stimulus bill.

John Bruton, the EU’s ambassador to the United States, urged congressional leaders to add a “reciprocity” clause that would require the United States to give foreign bidders the same degree of access to the U.S. government procurement market that American bidders have in European markets.

“Such a reciprocity clause would ensure that trade partners, such as the EU, which have liberalized their markets and currently provide access to U.S. bidders on a de facto basis ... are not unfairly penalized,” Bruton said in a letter to Democratic and Republican leaders.

The appeal came just before Senate leaders announced they had reach a deal with the House of the Representatives on a $789 billion package of tax cuts and spending programs to try to rescue the ailing U.S. economy.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, told reporters earlier that he believed the final package would include a Senate amendment requiring the United States to administer the Buy American provision in a way that complies with U.S. trade obligations.

Bruton said he welcomed that Senate language, but warned that the absence of a reciprocity clause “could have dangerous consequences as U.S. trade partners may feel compelled to enact similar buy-national laws and effectively close markets to U.S. bidders which are currently open.”

While the Senate version contains the stipulation that the United States abide by its trade commitments, it is broader than the House version in another important aspect by requiring all public works projects funded by the stimulus bill to use only U.S.-made goods.

The House version requires just U.S.-made iron and steel.

Meanwhile, a coalition of U.S. business groups sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to include a deal expanding the trade adjustment assistance program in the stimulus bill.

That program provides retraining and extended unemployment benefits for workers who have lost their jobs because of trade. The deal reached last week by the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee would expand funding for the program and make displaced service industry workers eligible for the first time. (Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Chris Wilson)

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