House Narrowly Passes TPA Trade Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday took the first step toward resuscitating the White House’s trade agenda by passing legislation granting President Obama fast-track authority. The bill now goes to the Senate, where the White House and GOP leaders are seeking to strike a deal with pro-trade Democrats.

The House vote was 218-208, with 28 Democrats in favor and 50 Republicans opposed.

House Democrats last week dealt a severe blow to President Barack Obama’s trade agenda when they voted against a key trade program that provides assistance to displaced workers, called Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). Democrats generally back aid to workers, but voted TAA down because it was tied to the fast-track measure.

This renewed push does not include the TAA provision, but promises a vote to extend the program, which expires in September.

The measure would grant Obama and the next president what is known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), allowing the White House to fast-track through Congress a string of enormous trade pacts, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement.

Proponents have argued that the huge trade pacts are the only way for America to maintain its status as the world's leader and ensure economic growth. Supporters accused opponents of spreading falsehoods about the trade deals and said there would not be secret assaults on U.S. laws, standards and the environment.

Thursday’s vote moves the measure back to the Senate, which passed an earlier version that was still linked to the workers' aid provisions. The plan is for the Senate to amend that bill to include worker trade assistance. The new fast-track bill will have to move through the Senate, and lawmakers hope it will be on President Obama’s desk before the July 4 recess.

“Today’s vote is a big step forward and we urge the Senate to follow suit, act quickly, and pass the House-approved TPA bill. Trade Promotion Authority is critical to completing negotiations of the free trade agreements with the Pacific and Europe. The U.S. can’t afford to sit on the sidelines as other countries negotiate and sign free trade agreements,” said Juanita Duggan, president and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association. “We also urge the Congress to complete work on the trade preferences bill as soon as possible. Last week the House passed the preferences bill overwhelmingly. The package includes a number of measures that will provide immediate relief to apparel and footwear companies.”

“The footwear industry applauds the House of Representatives for re-passing Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation today,” FDRA President Matt Priest said after the bill’s passage. “This has been a long and complex journey but I am confident that the U.S. Senate will soon pass this vital tool that every president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has had at his disposal. TPA is essential to completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement that could help the U.S. footwear industry and American consumers save hundreds of millions of dollars each year in costs. Our industry paid $2.7 billion in duties last year – more than $450 million from TPP partner countries alone. FDRA has worked for years to highlight the hundreds of thousands of U.S. footwear jobs that rely on our ability to move goods all over the world, with trade supporting one in five jobs in America. As this legislation heads back to the Senate, FDRA will continue to lead the charge with congressional leaders to share our story and explain how TPA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership will strengthen and expand these jobs throughout the U.S.”

David French, Senior Vice President for Government Relations at NRF, said in a statement, “We applaud House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. for their commitment to free and open trade and working with Republicans and Democrats alike to salvage the president’s economic and international trade agenda.

“Today’s vote on trade promotion authority will grant Congress new powers and responsibilities to craft and monitor our 21st century trade policy, and aid our trade representatives as they work to negotiate pending and future trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

“We urge the Senate to quickly consider the stand-alone TPA bill so it can move to the president’s desk for his signature. They should also finish work on other trade-related bills, including trade adjustment assistance and customs and preferences.

“The world is watching the U.S. Congress and our nation’s commitment to free and open trade.”

House Narrowly Passes TPA Trade Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives last Thursday took the first step toward resuscitating the White House’s trade agenda by passing legislation granting President Obama fast-track authority to negotiate a mammoth Pacific trade deal, reviving the prospects for the President to achieve a key element of his agenda.

The House vote was 218-208, with 28 Democrats in favor and 50 Republicans opposed.

The Senate was expected to vote the following week on the legislation, when it is also expected to take up a trade assistance measure aimed at winning over Democrats in a separate vote.

Democrats in the prior week dealt a severe blow to the President’s trade agenda when they voted against a key trade program that provides assistance to displaced workers, called Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). Democrats generally back aid to workers, but voted TAA down because it was tied to the fast-track measure.

This renewed push does not include the TAA provision, but promises a vote to extend the program, which expires in September.

The measure would grant Obama and the next president what is known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), allowing the White House to fast-track through Congress a string of enormous trade pacts. That includes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with 11 other nations along the Pacific, a deal that would affect 40 percent of the global economy.

The TPP free-trade agreement has divided the White House, which is aggressively pushing the agreement, which promises substantial duty relief, as necessary to maintain its status as the world's leader and ensure economic growth. Many congressional Democrats fear it would endanger American jobs and undermine labor and environmental standards.

The outcome of the bill in the Senate remains uncertain. Many of the 14 Senate Democrats who have already voted for the trade package are withholding their support until guarantees are secured that the TAA provision will also be passed in the House.

“We are committed to ensuring both TPA and TAA get votes in the House and Senate and are sent to the President for signature,” issued House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a joint statement Wednesday. “And it is our intent to have a conference on the customs bill and complete that in a timely manner so that the President can sign it into law.”

Boehner and McConnell struck a compromise to link TAA with an uncontroversial bill extending the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) for 10 years, which has typically passed without much opposition.

House leaders hope that Democrats will be convinced to support worker protections if they know that the trade bill will move forward with or without them. It is unclear whether TPA will have enough support from Senate Democrats to withstand a filibuster now that it is a standalone bill.

The industry’s trade groups uniformly support TPP passage. The OIA (Outdoor Industry Association) has said the passage will lower the disproportionately high import taxes assessed on outdoor products not made in the U.S., break down trade barriers to support export growth, and includes protections around labor and environmental standards.

Juanita Duggan, president and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, last week urged the Senate to also support the House-approved TPA bill.

“The U.S. can’t afford to sit on the sidelines as other countries negotiate and sign free trade agreements,” Duggan said. “We also urge the Congress to complete work on the trade preferences bill as soon as possible.”

FDRA President Matt Priest said the U.S. footwear industry paid $2.7 billion in duties last year – more than $450 million from TPP partner countries alone. Added Priest, “FDRA has worked for years to highlight the hundreds of thousands of U.S. footwear jobs that rely on our ability to move goods all over the world, with trade supporting one in five jobs in America. As this legislation heads back to the Senate, FDRA will continue to lead the charge with congressional leaders to share our story and explain how TPA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership will strengthen and expand these jobs throughout the U.S.”

“Retailers applaud the House for approving a standalone Trade Promotion Authority bill that paves the way to economic growth by providing American consumers and businesses with access to new markets,” said Hun Quach, VP for international trade at RILA (Retailers Industry Leaders Association). “TPA will ensure the Administration brings home trade agreements that create new opportunities for American businesses and bolsters U.S. competitiveness around the world.”

David French, SVP for government relations at the NRF (National Retail Federation), added that the TPA will grant Congress “new powers and responsibilities to craft and monitor our 21st century trade policy,” and help support negotiating efforts around the pending and future trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

“We urge the Senate to quickly consider the stand-alone TPA bill so it can move to the president’s desk for his signature,” said French. “They should also finish work on other trade-related bills, including trade adjustment assistance and customs and preferences. The world is watching the U.S. Congress and our nation’s commitment to free and open trade.”

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