Trade group presses for trade promotion authority

A leading trade coalition of businesses on Monday made another push for lawmakers to pass legislation that would help speed trade deals through Congress.

The Trade Benefits America Coalition is using World Trade Week as a platform to urge congressional passage of trade promotion authority (TPA) while touting the broader benefits of trade as an avenue for stronger U.S. economic growth.

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"By updating TPA and its negotiating objectives, Congress can strengthen U.S. negotiators’ hands and help them achieve the best possible outcomes in pending and future U.S. trade agreements, while also supporting U.S. growth and jobs,” said David Thomas, vice president at Business Roundtable, which leads the group. 

The year-old group, which includes nearly 200 leading U.S. business and agricultural firms, is pressing for TPA because they argue that the policy has played a critical role for decades in the successful negotiation and implementation of trade agreements.

Crafting an updated trade authority deal, which lapsed in 2007, would help with negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the group said.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is in Singapore for two days of meetings to continue TPP discussions while U.S. and European Union trade leaders are holding the fifth round of talks on that pact this week in Arlington, Va. 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said he is working on a bill that he is calling “smart track” instead of “fast track” that would address the complex global trading landscape, which has changed dramatically since the last measure was passed in 2002. 

Fast-track authority would allow the trade deals to go through Congress without amendments, giving lawmakers an up-or-down vote. 

Many congressional Democrats have expressed concern about that process arguing that they not only want to ensure their participation in the trade discussions but want to make sure any pact meets their demands and is not a reprise of older trade deals. 

For his part, Froman and his staff have held nearly 1,300 meetings in recent months with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to address concerns about the TPP.

“With more than one in five jobs tied to trade — exports and imports — and trade accounting for about 30 percent of U.S. GDP, U.S. economic growth and jobs increasingly depend on expanding trade opportunities with other countries,” Thomas said.

“This week reminds us of the critical role trade plays in enabling small-, medium- and large-size U.S. companies, as well as farmers and workers, to make and sell American goods and services in today’s global marketplace."

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