Bloomberg News

Congressional Deal Reached on Obama Trade-Talks Authority

January 09, 2014

Congressional leaders who oversee trade policy introduced legislation today that would give President Barack Obama the fast-track authority he is seeking to enact three of the world’s largest accords.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan joined leaders of the Senate Finance Committee to offer legislation on so-called trade-promotion authority, which subjects trade deals to an up-or-down vote by Congress.

“The TPA legislation we are introducing today will make sure that these trade deals get done, and get done right,” Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman, said in a statement. “This is our opportunity to tell the administration -- and our trading partners -- what Congress’s negotiating priorities are.”

The Obama administration is seeking trade-promotion authority to smooth congressional passage of trade deals, including one being negotiated with a group of 11 Pacific region nations and another with the 28-nation European Union. Those pacts, to create the world’s largest free-trade zones, would link regions with about $44 trillion in annual economic output. The U.S. is also negotiating a services-trade agreement with a group of nations that would cover about half of the world’s economy.

Obama ‘Priority’

The fast-track authority is a priority for Obama and is critical as negotiations move forward on the EU and Pacific-rim pacts, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

While Carney said today he hasn’t seen the specifics of the legislation, “when there’s progress on that front it’s a good thing.”

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Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Republican-led House panel, said he’s working on a rival measure and will lead opposition to the Baucus-Camp bill.

“You have to have a very substantial increase in Congress’s involvement at all stages,” Levin told reporters today in his office in Washington. The measure introduced by his colleagues “falls far short” of what needs to be included, he said.

Baucus’s bill, co-sponsored by Republicans Camp and Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, updates labor and environmental protections, adds provisions to guard intellectual property from cyber theft and for the first time seeks to prevent currency manipulation by trading partners, according to a fact sheet.

Business Support

It also ensures that members of Congress have access to the negotiating texts and lets them participate in the talks.

Industry groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the business community’s largest lobby, and the National Association of Manufacturers immediately backed the legislation.

“TPA is the Chamber’s top trade priority before the Congress,” Thomas Donohue, the Washington-based organization’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Levin said his bill will include provisions to prevent currency-manipulation and to create a bipartisan congressional panel that will weigh in on trade deals on an ongoing basis. He said the bill will include goals on labor, the environment and access to medicines.

U.S. automakers led by Ford Motor Co. (F:US) today separately proposed that negotiators working on the Pacific trade deal take steps to prevent currency manipulation by trading partners.

‘Currency Discipline’

“We will not support a Trans-Pacific Partnership that does not include a strong and enforceable currency discipline,” Matt Blunt, president of the American Automotive Policy Council and a former Republican governor of Missouri, said today on a call with reporters. The Washington-based group lobbies on behalf of Ford, General Motors Co. (GM:US) and Chrysler Group LLC.

Speaking at a Bloomberg Government breakfast today, Representative Aaron Schock of Illinois, a Republican on the House panel, said Obama needs to do more to lobby for trade-promotion authority.

“We need the president to come out and say he wants this. We need leadership from him,” Schock said, noting that the White House hasn’t endorsed the lawmakers’ plan.

Obama in a July 30 speech called for the authority, and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, two of his top deputies, have each urged Congress to pass the measure.

Bipartisan Support

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said Obama provided “scant attention” on fast-track authority in seeking support from Democrats in Congress.

“I made clear to the president that this can’t pass unless there’s bipartisan support for it,” Boehner told reporters today at the Capitol.

The trade authority, which expired in 2007, lets Congress set parameters for considering trade deals, and allows lawmakers to pass the accords without making amendments. Opponents, including labor unions and environmental groups, say they want more say in the pacts, particularly with the Pacific agreement in its final stages of negotiation, before giving Obama fast-track authority.

“This legislation strips Congress of its defining democratic characteristic -- its check-and-balance structure,” Michael Brune, executive director of the San Francisco-based Sierra Club, said today in a statement. He said lawmakers should be able to fully debate and amend trade deals.

Supporters of fast-track authority including a coalition of about 160 groups, led by organizations including the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers. The coalition -- whose members include Boeing Co. (BA:US), MetLife Inc. (MET:US), Pfizer Inc. (PFE:US) and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT:US) -- has ramped up lobbying efforts in recent months.

To contact the reporters on this story: Brian Wingfield in Washington at bwingfield3@bloomberg.net; Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net; Michael C. Bender in Washington at mbender10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net


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