Business leaders, lawmakers press for trade promotion authority

In the past couple of years, Republicans and business groups have led the charge to renew the authority but have been unable to advance any legislation. Fast-track expired in 2007.

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Consultations on a proposal should begin well before negotiators reach an agreement on a pending Asia-Pacific trade deal because it would give the president more room to negotiate that an other possible trade deals, Brilliant said. 

"We don't want to wait 10 months until we start talking," he said. 

Chamber officials, which are already talking with Congress and the White House, would only say that any renewal must be a broader, multiyear bill, but they declined to provide details on the scope of legislation, saying it is premature to provide specifics that will be worked out during the discussions. 

"We are making it a priority to engage stakeholders," Brilliant said. 

John Murphy, vice president of international affairs at the Chamber, said consideration of fast-track authority presents an opportunity to debate long-standing problems with trade. 

Chamber officials said trade initiatives are stacking up, including the completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which is expected to happen sometime this year, along with the start of talks with 20 trading partners to expand the U.S. services sector, such as banking, express delivery, information technology, insurance and telecommunications.

They also were further encouraged about renewing the policy after the chairmen of the House and Senate committees that oversee trade vowed to make a bill's passage a top priority this year. 

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) have each said they want to get a bill done. 

Nearly a year ago, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who is departing the agency at the end of next month, told the House Ways and Means Committee that the Obama administration would ask Congress to renew trade promotion authority. 

About the same time, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he wanted a vote on fast-track authority by the Memorial Day recess. 

But neither happened. 

In September 2011, Senate Republicans offered an amendment to restore fast-track authority, but that failed. 

Meanwhile, in a letter sent to Baucus on Thursday, several Republican senators urged for a renewal of trade promotion authority within the context of asking for lowering barriers to U.S. agriculture products as part of a possible trade agreement with the European Union. 

Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.) and John Thune (S.D.) asked Baucus to hold a hearing on agricultural issues, including restrictions on production methods for pork, beef and poultry and to pass fast-track authority. 

"As you are well aware, not only does trade promotion authority authorize a 'fast-track' for trade agreements, it also allows Congress to clearly set out priorities for trade negotiations and a framework by which our trade negotiators are required to follow," the senators wrote.

"Since we have not been afforded the opportunity to set our trade priorities through debate and passage of trade promotion authority legislation, we want to express one of our main priorities for any trade agreement this administration pursues, the lowering of trade barriers for American agricultural products," they wrote.  

In November, a broad number of agriculture groups sent a letter to Kirk expressing support for a trade agreement with the EU, and that the agreement contained a comprehensive approach to reducing barriers for agricultural products.  

"The barriers that the European Union has placed on many of our agricultural products are not based in sound science, and it’s hurting our producers,” Grassley said.