The great fast-track trade debate has come to a close.
After weeks of contentious votes and last-minute defections and deals, Trade Promotion Authority, also called fast-track, has passed the Senate in a 60 to 38 vote and is on its way to President Obama’s desk.
The bill gives Obama and future presidents the ability to negotiate trade deals and send them to Congress for an up-or-down vote without the option of amendments.
The vote also clears the way for the final rounds of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the centerpiece of Obama’s second-term economic agenda. The TPP includes 11 nations in addition to the U.S. and will open the door for reduced footwear tariffs with countries like Vietnam and Mexico.
“With final passage of [Trade Promotion Authority,] the U.S. can now conclude the free-trade agreements being negotiated with countries in the Pacific Rim and Europe,” said American Apparel & Footwear Association President and CEO Juanita Duggan. “Free-trade agreements open markets for U.S.-made and U.S.-branded goods while creating duty-free sourcing opportunities, which is what the clothing and shoe industry depends on to grow and reach new customers. Our members are constantly looking to remain competitive in the global marketplace. These agreements have the potential to make them more competitive.”
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“The U.S. Congress, in a bipartisan way, has provided President Obama with the tools and instructions he needs to complete the agreement, increasing jobs and economic opportunity for all Americans,” said Matt Priest, president of the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America. “We look forward to advocating on behalf of our industry as [Trans-Pacific Partnership] is finalized and sent to the Hill for consideration.”
The deal is also a major assertion of dominance in the region for the U.S. and member countries against global economic powerhouse China, which isn’t in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lauded the passage. “The bill … will assert Congress’ authority throughout the trade-negotiation process, it will ensure we have the tools we need to properly scrutinize whatever trade agreements are ultimately negotiated and it will make clear that the final say rests with us.”
Democrats in the House backed down their opposition to TPP on Wednesday. Minority leader and Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who led the vote against the Promotion Authority in the House just a few weeks ago, reversed her stance today.
In a letter to House Democrats, Pelosi said, “While we may not all vote in the same manner on [Trade Adjustment Assistance], I will support its passage because it can open the door to a full debate on [Trans-Pacific Partnership.]”
Pelosi’s support of Trade Adjustment Assistance (a bill benefiting adversely affected workers) was a big shift after she initially voted against the program in order to block the fast-track bill. Tomorrow, the House is expected to vote on the Trade Adjustment legislation, which is linked with the highly popular African trade-preference bill.
The fight for Trade Promotion may be winding down, but as the Trans-Pacific Partnership wraps up, trade will definitely be back in the spotlight.
Pelosi closed her letter by laying out her guidelines for the TPP and other agreements: “My standard for any trade agreement is that it must create good-paying 21st century jobs, increase the paychecks of American workers and it must do so recognizing the relationship between commerce and climate.”