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President Clinton's bid for "fast-track" negotiating authority to create a hemispherewide free-trade area cleared a key legislative hurdle Wednesday as the House Ways and Means Committee approved the measure 24-14 with only four Democrats voting yes.

The measure gives the president the power to negotiate future free-trade agreements under a "fast-track" process that requires quick congressional consideration and a yes-or-no vote without amendments.

Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, the committee chairman, blamed the power of organized labor for the lack of Democratic votes. He had said previously that without the support of at least seven of the 16 Democrats on his panel, the trade legislation would not win House approval. "I am worried about whether we will have enough support to pass it on the floor of the House," Archer told reporters.

AT&T looking for merger partner
NEW YORK (AP) -- With WorldCom's bid for MCI threatening to create an all-around telecommunications powerhouse, long-distance leader AT&T is expected to find a partner to stay atop the business of connecting people.

Although a deal is not imminent, AT&T is in serious talks about purchasing GTE to gain its strong local phone, Internet and wireless businesses, said consultant Gary Miller, who said he spoke with senior executives at both companies.

"This last major market shock of WorldCom (seeking) MCI further pressures AT&T to cut a deal with somebody," said Miller, chairman of Aragon Consulting Group Inc. in St. Louis.

AT&T and GTE have had exploratory merger talks twice before, but the latest round involves top management and became much more urgent since WorldCom targeted MCI last week, Miller said.

Jury hits Chrysler for $262 million
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- A jury Wednesday ordered Chrysler Corp. to pay $262.5 million to the parents of a 6-year-old boy who was killed when he was thrown from the family minivan in an accident because a rear latch was defective.

The $12.5 million in actual damages and $250 million in punitive damages awarded to the parents of Sergio Jimenez II was the largest award against the automaker, said Chrysler spokesman Mike Aberlich, who added the company would appeal.

IMF to assist Indonesia
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The International Monetary Fund said Wednesday it will provide a financial rescue package to Indonesia following a sharp fall in the value of the currency of the world's fourth most populous country.

The IMF said it would send a team of experts to Jakarta as soon as possible to work out details.

The IMF and a group of countries led by Japan provided Thailand with $17 billion in August.

Yield slips on indexed T-notes
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Yields on five-year, inflation-indexed Treasury notes fell in Wednesday's auction.

The high yield was 3.600 percent, down from 3.744 percent at the last auction on July 9. In addition to the yield, owners of indexed notes receive an adjustment to principal twice a year.

Germany agrees to Eurofighter
BONN, Germany (AP) -- In a boost for Europe's defense industry, the German government approved funding for a four-nation combat jet after years of delay caused by high costs, technical problems and the end of the Cold War.

The decision by Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Cabinet removed the last major obstacle to producing the high-tech Eurofighter, to be built by firms in Germany, France, Britain and Spain in a bid to avoid dependence on the United States.

In other business news
Westinghouse Air Brake Co. said it will create 150 jobs when it opens a factory on the former Plattsburgh (N.Y.) Air Force Base to make air conditioning systems and door systems for rail cars and buses.

The United Auto Workers dropped its strike threat at a Ford Motor Co. parts plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., after reaching an agreement that the union said provides 190 new jobs.

Champion International said it plans to sell its newsprint, paper recycling and other businesses along with Northeast timberland and cut 2,000 jobs to reverse sagging profits.

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