Updated: Bill giving Obama 'fast-track' trade authority introduced in Congress

By Agri-Pulse staff

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 9, 2014 - Leaders of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees today introduced legislation that would give the president “fast-track” authority to put trade deals before Congress for an up-or down vote without amendments.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont; Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., introduced The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014, which they said will also give Congress greater oversight over trade negotiations.

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The bill comes as the Obama administration seeks to wrap up Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks with 11 Pacific Rim nations, as well as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the 28-member European Union. The treaties would create the world's biggest free-trade zones.

In a news release, the sponsors of the trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation noted that the bill provides for tougher, enforceable rules against barriers to U.S. agriculture.

“This is our opportunity to tell the administration - and our trading partners - what Congress' negotiating priorities are,” Baucus said in the release. “TPA legislation is critical to a successful trade agenda. It is critical to boosting U.S. exports and creating jobs.”

Camp said Congress must pass TPA legislation in order to secure economic and job growth benefits of large trade deals.

“This legislation will ensure that the Administration is following the rules and negotiating objectives that Congress has set out,” he added.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) said without TPA legislation, other countries are reluctant to finalize negotiations with the U.S. for fear that agreements could be undone through amendments by Congress.

“The U.S. market is one of the most open in the world, yet our farmers and ranchers face high tariffs and other noncompetitive practices when they try to export their products,” AFBF President Bob Stallman said in a statement. “For U.S. agriculture to thrive, we have to correct these disparities and level the playing field. The current TPP and TTIP negotiations are our best chance to expand our trade opportunities, and only with TPA can we succeed in these negotiations.”

According to AFBF, U.S. farmers and ranchers earn 25 percent of their farm income from exports.

Nick Giordano, vice president and counsel of international affairs for National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), said he is confident the TPA bill will pass. 

“The [Obama] Administration and trade leaders in Congress are on the same page as us in American agriculture,” he said. 

Still, TPA passage is far from certain, with much of the opposition coming from the president's own party, many of whom are concerned about labor and environmental protections. In the House, Democrats Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Louise Slaughter of New York and George Miller of California, released a statement blasting legislation. They said TPA would enable the president “to ram through far-reaching, secretly negotiated trade deals like the TPP that extend well beyond traditional trade matters.”

 “Our constituents did not send us to Washington to ship their jobs overseas, and Congress will not be a rubber stamp for another flawed trade deal that will hang the middle class out to dry,” the lawmakers said in a statement.

Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich., said in a news release that he would work on alternative legislation that “fully meets today's needs in a rapidly globalizing economy.” He noted that the last time TPA was approved, in 2002, the authority used mostly for single-nation trade agreements, but the treaties currently being negotiated would be major multi-party agreements.

Republican leaders are supporting the legislation, which is backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the Obama Administration needs to encourage support from Democrats.  

“I made it clear to the president that this can't pass unless there is bipartisan support for it,” Boehner said today in a press conference. “This goes back months, but we've seen scant attention to this issue by the administration in terms of encouraging Democratic leaders and Democratic members to stand up and vote on it.”

The White House today said the introduction of the legislation, which would replace trade authority that expired in 2007, is “an important step towards Congress updating its important role in trade negotiations.”

This story was updated at 4:45 PM 01/09/2014

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