Big endorsement for Obama trade deal

Big endorsement for Obama trade deal
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A powerful business group on Monday threw its support behind President Obama's sweeping Pacific Rim trade deal, a move that could boost the agreement’s chances of passing Congress.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) said it will support the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which was finalized in October after more than five years of negotiations.

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“Support for the TPP, which allows manufacturers to be more competitive in a global economy, is in keeping with the NAM’s principles," said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons.

"Without such an agreement, the United States would be ceding economic leadership to other global powers, letting them set the rules of economic engagement in the region," Timmons said.

NAM did not give the trade deal an unqualified endorsement, saying "there are some principled objections to the TPP, so the NAM will continue to work closely with its members to address remaining barriers."

"Importantly, we encourage the administration to work closely with the industry, congressional leaders and the other TPP governments to address these key issues," Timmons said.

“Ultimately, the TPP is a significant improvement over the status quo — for manufacturers and for the broader economy."

Last month, the National Foreign Trade Council said discussions between congressional lawmakers and the Obama administration to improve the TPP would improve its chances of passage on Capitol Hill.

The trade council said that the TPP has the potential to be a major step forward in opening foreign markets to more U.S. products.

NAM is the biggest business group yet to publicly support of the agreement, with the most influential of all — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — still uncommitted. 

The Chamber is seeking to unify its members on the deal. While some industries are strongly in favor of the agreement, others — including the tobacco, pharmaceutical and auto industries — have major qualms with it.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has said that he would like to vote on the Asia-Pacific agreement as soon as possible as long as the TPP lives up to the standards set by Congress in a trade promotion authority law. 

Quick action in the Senate on the deal appears doubtful, however. 

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has suggested that the trade deal wouldn't receive a vote until after the 2016 elections. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has expressed serious concerns with agreement.

Obama, in his year-end press conference, said that passing the TPP is a top legislative priority but acknowledged that opposition to the deal in both parties makes for “an interesting situation."