Business groups step up push for fast-track authority

Congress last enacted such authority, which gives the White House the ability to negotiate free-trade agreements and allows Congress to quickly approve them, in 2002. But it lapsed in 2007.  

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has said he is working on a bipartisan bill and has plans to introduce a measure in June. 

“We need to have an aggressive trade agenda to grow exports and remain competitive globally, and in order to make this agenda a reality, Congress and the administration must move forward with renewing TPA as soon as possible,” said Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.

Efforts by business groups and lawmakers to renew the authority have picked up pace since President Obama announced plans in his State of the Union address to start negotiations this summer on a trade deal between the United States and the European Union (EU).

“With the TPP and U.S.-EU trade negotiations under way, updated trade promotion authority is more important than ever to ensure the successful conclusion of these negotiations, grow our economy and increase jobs and exports,” said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council.

Mike Froman, a White House trade adviser who is the nominee to become the new U.S. Trade Representative and has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill, is expected to address the issue during his confirmation hearing, which has yet to be announced. 

To that end, U.S. and European trade officials have argued for Congress to complete the confirmation process before the two trading partners begin negotiations in July. “We’re not going to be able to negotiate trade agreements that will create American jobs and spur U.S. growth without TPA," said Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber.

U.S. Chamber officials have spent the past several months canvassing Capitol Hill and talking to lawmakers about the importance of trade and that the TPA renewal must be a broader, multiyear bill that covers more ground since the last version was written more than a decade ago.

While the authority isn't technically needed to begin or end trade talks, it does give Congress a way of framing the debate and influencing the agenda in conjunction with the White House while, usually, signaling support for a particular agreement.

The authority is expected to include guidance on the U.S.-EU deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and a services agreement that is under construction. 

European trade officials recently told The Hill that they expect the White House and Congress to move forward to provide the authority and that they weren't concerned about it getting done. 

Besides the Chamber and BRT, the coalition steering committee members include the American Farm Bureau Federation, Coalition of Services Industries, Emergency Committee for American Trade, National Association of Manufacturers, National Foreign Trade Council and U.S. Council for International Business.