New Trade Promotion Bill Passes House, Heads to Senate

US Capitol Building
The U.S. Capitol Building.
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The House of Representatives has moved ahead on a plan to restart President Obama’s trade agenda. Today the House  voted 244 to 181 to resume debate on Trade Promotion Authority, also known as fast-track. The bill was later approved 218 to 208.

After legislative maneuvering and political wheeling and dealing among the Senate, the House and the administration, Trade Promotion Authority was presented as a standalone piece of legislation. The fast-track bill was the answer to last week’s failed vote and gives the President the power to wrap up negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The footwear industry stands to benefit hugely from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes 11 member nations and will reduce tariffs in Vietnam and other nations.

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“[Trade Promotion Authority] 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,” said Matt Priest, president of the Footwear Retailers & Distributors. “In all honesty, I think we’re running out of opportunities to get this done and we have a time crunch with the election. I think the GOP and president are aligned on the issue and this is the chance for [trade promotion] to pass.”

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. Senate leaders have indicated that fast-track will not be brought up for debate this week.

Today’s moves by House Republican leaders came after Friday’s block of fast-track by House Democrats, who voted against the Trade Assistance portion of the package deal. Because one part of the package failed, the fast-track authority and a customs bill aimed at currency manipulation couldn’t move forward.

This was despite fast-track authority part of the package was approved last Friday in a 219-to-211 vote.

The Trade Assistance Authority that failed last week, which gives benefits to workers hurt by trade deals, has been attached to a highly popular pro-Africa trade bill that was approved in the House last Wednesday and is on its way to the Senate. The plan is for the Senate to amend that bill to include worker trade assistance.

“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.”