Hundreds of groups call for new framework to negotiate trade deals

The campaign against giving President Obama trade promotion authority is growing as a broad array of groups argue that negotiating global agreements has outgrown the long-standing process.

Nearly 600 groups sent a letter on Wednesday to Senate Finance Chairman Ron WydenRon WydenPuerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate Senate panel delays email privacy vote amid concerns Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE (D-Ore.) calling for nixing so-called fast-track authority and creating a new framework to negotiate and implement trade agreements.

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“There is no acceptable version of fast track,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

“Fast-track must be replaced so Congress can steer international trade in a new direction and create agreements that actually work for most Americans.”

Besides the Public Citizen, the campaign is being led by the AFL-CIO, the Communications Workers of America, the Citizens Trade Campaign and Sierra Club, all of whom have expressed  frustration with the direction of trade talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

“Only with new trade negotiating authority can we secure new trade rules that can help hard working Americans build a sustainable economy and promote broadly shared prosperity,” said President Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO.

“Chairman Wyden has a chance to make history by being the architect of a new and democratic trade policy, and we commit to doing all we can to help achieve that goal," he said. 

In January, former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) introduced a bill that failed to gain any traction.

Since taking over Finance, Wyden has said he is crafting "smart" track legislation and that he would aim to gather a bipartisan majority to support it. 

The last fast-track law expired in 2007 during President George W. Bush's tenure.

“We need a new model of trade — one that protects communities and the environment while keeping the public engaged in the policy-making process," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, one of the groups leading the charge.

Meanwhile, Camp, among others, have said that wrapping up work on the Obama administration’s ambitious trade agenda would be impossible without trade promotion authority (TPA) and it must be passed before finalizing any major trade agreements.

The letter calls for a new model that includes a role for Congress in selecting trade partners, a set of mandatory negotiating objectives, enhanced transparency and ensuring congressional objectives have been met before trade talks can conclude.

House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) has pushed for more congressional involvement in shaping trade deals before they reach Capitol Hill.

“A new model of trade authority is the only way to ensure that workers and communities have a voice in these trade decisions," said Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America.

"We want to determine what kind of economy we have, not simply accept super-power status for multinational corporations and a snails’ pace for the enforcement issues raised by the rest of us.”