Global trade opponents muscle up

Opponents of expanding global trade are ramping up efforts to block cooperation between the White House and a Republican-controlled Congress. 

Trade is emerging as possible common ground between President Obama and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellFlight restrictions signal possible August vacation for Trump The GOP Wonder Women who saved healthcare for 22 million Senators, you passed ObamaCare repeal-only bill in 2015 — do it again MORE (R-Ky.), who invited the White House to send trade deals to the new GOP majority.

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That’s prompting labor and environmental groups worried about the deals to turn up the pressure against trade promotion authority legislation, which would make it easier for Obama to negotiate deals by preventing the opponents from filibustering them in the Senate.  

“CWA activists are focusing all our efforts on stopping fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” said Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). 

“Millions of labor, environmental, community and human rights activists are fighting back and demanding that the White House and Congress put U.S. citizens ahead of the corporate and financial interests that already define and dominate the global economy,” Cohen said. 

On Thursday, a broad coalition of those groups delivered a petition with more than 500,000 signatures to key congressional leaders. The petition expressed opposition to fast-track authority, Public Citizen said. 

Even with McConnell’s invitation, actually getting fast-track approved will be difficult.

Opponents of the deals think they can gear up opposition not only from Democrats, but from Republicans, too.

“That’s what makes a deal so tricky because Republicans aren’t a solid bloc on this issue and their base polls more anti-trade than Democrats,” said one trade expert who supports the unions’ efforts.

Obama wants to win fast-track legislation to ease passage of deals his administration is negotiating with the European Union and a group of Asian and Latin American countries forming the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

On Sunday, he’ll travel to the Pacific Rim for meetings in China, Burma and Australia, where trade is expected to be a hot topic.

Earlier this year, the president said he hoped to see the conclusion of TPP talks at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing.

But negotiators have fallen short of those expectations. 

U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael FromanUS will investigate aluminum imports as national security hazard Overnight Finance: WH floats Mexican import tax | Exporters move to back GOP tax proposal | Dems rip Trump adviser's Goldman Sachs payout Froman heads to Council on Foreign Relations MORE said last week that no final agreement on TPP is expected at APEC. 

TPP negotiations are expected to continue along the edges of the meetings and some leaders have recently raised hopes that talks may move along at a faster pace.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told his cabinet recently that he wants to make greater efforts to break the deadlock between the Tokyo and Washington over market access issues for autos and agriculture. 

Abe said that upcoming meetings in China “will be important for an early conclusion” for TPP talks. 

Comments like those are ramping up groups opposed to the pact.

On Saturday, hundreds of groups including the Communications Workers of America, the AFL-CIO, and the American Civil Liberties Union are launching  #StopFastTrack to generate additional calls, emails and rallies urging Congress to oppose the policy.

They also are calling on lawmakers to affirm their opposition to granting the authority. 

Before the elections, the AFL-CIO started an aggressive ad campaign against fast track.

Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff at the union, said the campaign was aimed at “sending a powerful message” that opponents are ready to wage a fight.

The groups say that so many missed deadlines in the negotiations beg a new approach. 

“When you fail to meet your self-imposed deadline one year, and then a second year, and then a third year, maybe it's time to open up your process and reassess,” said Ilana Solomon, director of trade for the Sierra Club.