Fast-track bill held up amid talks on trade assistance

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 15, 2015 - Release of a fast-track trade bill was held up Wednesday as key lawmakers negotiated the terms of a separate package of trade adjustment programs sought by Democrats.

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Ron Wyden of Oregon, has insisted that a Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) reauthorization measure be moved in tandem with the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, which would smooth the way for new trade agreements.

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TAA is a package of programs that help businesses, workers and farmers harmed by imports. Workers and farmers can receive cash benefits as well as services.

TPA bars lawmakers from amending trade agreements and is seen as critical to wrap up the pending 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

Although no deal had been finalized, the Senate committee late Wednesday night announced plans for a hearing Thursday morning with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.

“Consensus has been reached to move forward “ with the hearing, although the negotiations continued, a committee spokeswoman emailed Wednesday night.

Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said earlier in the day that he wanted to have the negotiations wrapped up by Wednesday night in time to have the hearing on the TPA Thursday and a vote next week.

“I've worked my butt off to get this resolved, and it hasn't been easy,” Hatch said.

Wyden is negotiating the TAA issue separately with House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “Talking,” is all Wyden would say when asked Wednesday afternoon about the state of the negotiations.

Details of the TPA bill have not been released but Democrats insisted on tightening the process for moving a trade agreement to a final up-or-down vote.

Sen. Rob Portman, who served as U.S. trade representative in the George W. Bush administration, said the TPA bill would still only require a majority vote in committee to send a trade agreement to the floor for a final vote. That should be reassuring to trade negotiators, he said. 

“We've never had a trade (agreement) fail yet and never had one come out of committee without a majority vote,” said Portman, R-Ohio. 

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Labor unions have stepped up their lobbying against TPA ahead of the bill's release. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which supported the earlier Korean trade agreement because of its potential benefit to meat exports, published an op-ed in The Hill newspaper Wednesday in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“As the union that represents hundreds of thousands of meatpacking and food processing workers, we support fair trade agreements that open up new markets to sell UFCW-made products abroad,” wrote UFCW President Mark Perrone.

“This time it's different. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not the Korea free trade agreement. It is neither free nor fair. And the UFCW is determined to see it defeated.”

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