[A2k] Bridges Weekly: Trade Promotion Authority Secures Approval in US Congress
thiru at keionline.org
Thu Jun 25 03:19:57 PDT 2015
VOLUME 19 - NUMBER 23
Trade Promotion Authority Secures Approval in US Congress
25 June 2015
The US Senate approved Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) on Wednesday, just
days after the House also voted in favour of the legislation. The bill is
now set to go the US President’s desk this week, where it is expected to be
soon signed into law.
The successful passage of TPA in the Senate – which went through by a 60-38
vote margin – was widely expected after a procedural vote to invoke
“cloture” on TPA passed the day prior.
Invoking cloture is a move that essentially breaks a filibuster, instead
limiting debate on a pending matter for up to 30 additional hours. While
the vote on TPA itself required only a simple majority of 51 votes to pass,
cloture is a more difficult threshold to reach, requiring 60 votes.
“Today, the U.S. Congress made clear that the United States intends to lead
on trade, deliver more, good middle class jobs, and unlock opportunity for
American workers, farmers, ranchers, and small businesses across the
country,” said US Trade Representative Michael Froman following the cloture
The TPA legislation sets out US principal negotiating objectives in trade
deals and allows for completed agreements to be submitted by the US
executive branch to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote, without the
possibility of amendment. The previous version of TPA was enacted in 2002
and expired in 2007.
The bill approved by Congress includes various new measures on
transparency, as well as language that would strip a final trade deal from
this “fast track” protection should it be found that the executive branch
failed to meet TPA’s consultation or transparency requirements, for
instance if lawmakers find that the deal has not made sufficient progress
in meeting congressional priorities and objectives.
The road to bring the TPA legislation to the President’s desk has proved to
be a tricky one, with efforts in both chambers of Congress hitting repeated
stumbling blocks before ultimately securing approval.
Overcoming these stumbling blocks has, in turn, required difficult
legislative manoeuvring, with Republican leadership and pro-trade Democrats
attempting a series of approaches in combining – or separating – various
trade bills in order to ensure that all receive approval.
Approval in the House last week, for example, came only after TPA was dealt
a devastating defeat in that same chamber days before when it was attached
to Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a support programme for US workers
displaced by trade. (See Bridges Weekly, 18 June 2015)
The loss prompted TPA proponents to pursue the legislation as a stand-alone
bill, while working to provide pro-trade Democrats the necessary assurances
that TAA would still receive the support to advance, given that Republicans
have traditionally opposed the programme.
“This has been a long and rather twisted path to where we are today, but
it's are a very, very important accomplishment for the country,” said
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday following the cloture
AGOA, TAA renewal
TAA has now been attached to a separate bill that would renew a series of
US preference schemes, including the Generalized System of Preferences
(GSP), the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and preferential duty
treatment for Haiti. That legislation was also approved by the Senate on
Wednesday, and is now set for House consideration today.
In the wake of TPA’s approval, members of the Republican leadership have
repeated past assurances that they will help TAA cross the finish line as
“We remain committed to ensuring that both TPA and TAA are passed and
enacted into law,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner on Tuesday,
pledging that his chamber would consider TAA once the Senate approves its
own version, as part of the larger preferences bill.
“Our goal is to get TPA and TAA to the president’s desk this week and
deliver this win for the American people,” he added.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, told fellow
lawmakers in her party that she would be voting in favour of the
TAA/Preferences package this week.
“While we have not all voted in the same manner, we all recognise that the
next debate will be over Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] itself and all
Members – on both sides of this debate – will shine a bright light on the
provisions of TPP,” Pelosi said in a letter on Wednesday.
Furthermore, Pelosi said, she would “support [TAA’s] passage because it can
open the door to a full debate on TPP.”
Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat that had been one of the leading voices
in the House against the current iteration of TPA, has also said that he
anticipates most of his Democratic colleagues to now vote today in favour
of TAA, according to comments reported by Reuters.
Another key piece of legislation is a customs and enforcement bill, which
has been passed in both chambers and must now undergo a “conference”
process in order to reconcile the differences in the House and Senate
McConnell has said that he intends to go this week to conference on the
customs bill. Boehner, for his part, has made the same commitment.
The enactment of TPA is expected to give a boost to a series of trade
initiatives that the US is involved in, particularly the Trans-Pacific
The former is a 12-country effort involving various Pacific Rim countries,
which is reportedly in the final stages. Efforts to bring the deal to a
close had slowed during the TPA process, with other TPP partners reportedly
reticent to make their most difficult concessions without knowing whether
the necessary trade legislation was in place in Washington.
“We are literally one week of negotiation away from completing this
extraordinary deal across 12 countries and 40 percent of the world's GDP,”
said Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb last week, in an interviewwith
At the time, the Australian official had warned that a failure to pass TPA
in Washington could create “a real problem with the future of the TPP.”
Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari, for his part, told the Reuters news
agency yesterday that enacting TPA would mean there “won’t be a big
hurdle,” to reach a broad TPP deal next month.
A ministerial-level meeting of TPP members had originally been expected
last month, given that trade ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic
Cooperation (APEC) countries – a 21-country group that includes all 12 TPP
members – were meeting in the Philippines.
However, that meeting was then postponed indefinitely in light of the US
congressional processes. When and where it will be rescheduled has not yet
been announced. (See Bridges Weekly, 28 May 2015)
The response to TPA’s final passage have varied widely, in a reflection of
the highly-polarised nature of the trade discussions.
Thomas Donohue, President and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce, said on
Tuesday that the cloture vote marked “an important step towards
revitalising our economy, creating good American jobs, and reasserting our
country’s global economic leadership.”
Labour union federations such as the AFL-CIO, however, have advocated
strongly against TPA, warning that passing it “would lead to another bad
trade deal that would cost American jobs,” according to a statementissued
earlier this month by Richard Trumka, the group’s president. The AFL-CIO
includes 56 US unions.
Public Citizen, a Washington-based advocacy group that has lobbied strongly
against both TPA and TPP, released a statement following Tuesday’s cloture
vote that urged their supporters to redirect their efforts toward blocking
the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s approval, even with the final TPA vote on
Wednesday still pending at that time.
“Today’s action means that Congress will tie its hands to prevent it from
exerting positive influence over negotiations of the TPP,” said Robert
Weissman, President of Public Citizen, in an e-mailed statement. “What it
doesn’t mean is that Congress must past such a TPP.”
ICTSD reporting; “Japan says broad agreement on Pacific trade deal possible
in July,: REUTERS, 24 June 2015; “Wyden: Dems will hold the line on customs
bill,” THE HILL, 23 June 2015; “Obama’s Pacific trade pact nears finish in
U.S. Congress,” REUTERS, 24 June 2015; “Pacific Trade Authority Bill Wins
Final Approval in the Senate,” THE NEW YORK TIMES, 24 June 2015.
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