Business, ag groups urge passage of fast-track authority

More than 200 business and agriculture groups on Wednesday urged congressional leaders to give President Obama expanded trade powers before the end of this year. 

The Trade Benefits America Coalition — a group of many of the nation's largest companies — are pushing for passage of updated Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) before the next Congress, they wrote in a letter sent to House and Senate leadership.

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"Congressional action on TPA is needed to help ensure high-standard outcomes in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, which the United States and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries are striving to complete," the letter said.  

But the chances of Congress taking up trade promotion authority, also known as fast-track, in the lame-duck session have largely faded with lawmakers expected to focus on top priorities such a government funding bill and and tax policies.

Fast-track would smooth passage of any trade deals that reach Capitol Hill by giving lawmakers an up or down vote.

The groups argue that by passing fast-track, Congress will "help ensure strong outcomes" in the talks between the United States and European Union on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) and a deal eliminate tariffs on environmental goods.

"These initiatives hold tremendous potential to help U.S. companies of all sizes, farmers and workers buy and sell goods and services in the global marketplace, set strong, enforceable trade rules and support U.S. growth and jobs," they wrote.

"Other countries are completing trade agreements that are opening markets for their companies, farmers and workers and shaping the rules for international trade to their advantage," they wrote.

"It is vital that the United States respond by negotiating and implementing high-standard, market-opening trade agreements as soon as possible."