Obama presses for fast-track, new trade deals

President Obama pushed for increased trade on Tuesday night to help U.S. business grow and hire more workers. 

Obama specifically pointed to small business owners who he said represent 98 percent of the nation's exporters.

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"New trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs," he said.

To that end, the president urged Congress to pass fast-track authority, which is designed to help smooth passage of any trade deals that may arrive on Capitol Hill this year.

"We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority (TPA) to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped 'Made in the USA,'" said during his State of the Union address.

"China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines. Neither should we."

The Trade Benefits America Coalition, a group of more than 170 U.S. business and agricultural associations and companies, said TPA is critical to expanding market access for U.S. goods. 

“To ensure the United States continues reaping the benefits of trade agreements, it is imperative that Congress and the administration continue working together to enact modernized TPA as soon as possible this year," said David Thomas, vice president at Business Roundtable, which leads the coalition.

But Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said the president only skimmed over the issue, signaling a tough road ahead for legislation that is opposed by many House and Senate Democrats. 

“Corporate interests were fiercely lobbying for President Obama to dedicate serious time in this speech to pushing fast-track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in order to try to overcome broad congressional and public opposition to both, but instead he made only a passing reference that largely repeated his past statements," she said in a statement. 

"High-profile treatment of the issue was considered necessary to revive any prospect that fast-track could be passed in this Congress."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) introduced the bill earlier this month. 

But many Democrats have said they want a measure that ensures the intense involvement of Congress to shape future trade agreements, especially TPP.