CEOs make push for trade expansion

The nation's top business leaders are urging Congress to grant President Obama expanded trade powers to help push through an ambitious global agenda.

The Business Roundtable (BRT) sent a letter to House and Senate leaders calling on them to pass trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation early this year as the completion of a massive Asia-Pacific agreement nears the finish line. 

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"Passage of TPA will help ensure that U.S. trade negotiators get the best possible outcomes for American companies, farmers and workers and will reassure our trading partners that Congress and the administration are committed to reaching strong trade agreements," wrote Thomas Linebarger, chairman and CEO of Cummins and chairman of the BRT's International Engagement Committee.

“It also ensures Congress plays a key role in the trade negotiations by laying out clear negotiating objectives and consultation requirements for the administration," he wrote. 

President Obama has urged lawmakers to pass what is also called fast-track authority, which gives Congress an up or down vote on any trade deal that reaches Capitol Hill. 

“We urge you, other members of Congress, and the president to partner to enact TPA as soon as possible," Linebarger wrote.

The BRT said passing trade promotion authority is critical to completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the Trade in Services Agreement and an agreement to eliminate tariffs on environmental goods. 

House and Senate Republicans have expressed their desire to pass a bill early this year.

Meanwhile, some Democrats have expressed opposition to the policy, arguing that they have been left out of what they have called secret negotiations.

They also say that past U.S. trade policy has led to the loss of jobs and wages. 

But the BRT argued that trade-related jobs here grew three and a half times faster than total U.S. employment from 2004 to 2013, with trade supporting nearly 40 million jobs.

Nearly half of all U.S. goods exports now go to its 20 free-trade-agreement partner countries, it said.