Tags: Barack Obama | trade agreements | Asia | Democrats

Obama Eyes Smoother Ride in New Congress on Trade Deals

By    |   Wednesday, 31 Dec 2014 10:31 AM

The silver lining for President Barack Obama in the dark cloud of the 2014 midterm elections is that with Republicans holding control of Congress, chances to move forward on approval of trade promotion authority (TPA) and other key trade deals have greatly improved.

One of the top items on the administration's agenda is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a comprehensive trade deal that is in its fifth year of intense negotiations, and has seen deadlines to reach agreement pass by the last three years. With little hope of pushing a major trade deal through Congress during a presidential election year, supporters and opponents recognize the coming year is critical.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for the administration. They need to get out and educate members and address the concerns they might have. I’ve been advising colleagues who are skeptical and not supportive of trade to at least engage in conversations and feedback,” Democrat Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin, who is pro-trade, told The Washington Post.

A sign of the importance the administration places on achieving progress on the trade front is that U.S. Trade Representative Michael B. Froman and his staff have held 1,500 meetings on Capitol Hill to push for TPP and TPA, according to The New York Times.

If signed, the TPP would become the largest trade deal ever passed. The deal would ease trade barriers between the U.S. and 12 Asian nations that together comprise close to 40 percent of the world’s GDP.

In working to secure its passage, one of Froman's key allies on Capitol Hill will be incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who indicated after the election his willingness to work with Obama.

“I’ve got a lot of members who believe that international trade agreements are a winner for America and the president and I discussed that right before I came over here. I think he’s interested in moving forward. I said, ‘send us trade agreements, we’re anxious to look at them,’ ” said McConnell in November, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Obama told the Business Roundtable earlier this month that he has committed to actively pushing for trade deals and is confident that the TPP, as well as a trade deal with Europe, can be achieved in the next year.

If he is to be successful, he must first take on members within the Democrat caucus.

"It should help move TPA along both because it will help persuade wavering Democrats that supporting it is the right thing to do and because it will demonstrate to Republicans that the president is willing to wade into the fight," National Foreign Trade Council President Bill Reinsch told Reuters.

With TPA's primary opponent, outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid no longer controlling the agenda, the path forward for TPA, or "fast track" trade authority, is much smoother.

It also is one of the priorities of incoming Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch.

"Renewing TPA and advancing other parts of our trade agenda also represents an opportunity for a fully Republican Congress to work with the administration. So, trade will almost certainly take up much of the Finance Committee’s agenda as next year gets underway," said Hatch recently during a Financial Services Roundtable event, The Hill reported.

The real challenge for Froman and supporters of trade will be to overcome opposition coming from Democrats and their allies in the labor and environmental left-wing of their party.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently joined other Senate Democrats to write a letter to Froman warning that the government's ability to "prevent future financial crises" would be undermined if TPP is passed in its current form.

"We cannot afford a trade deal that undermines the government’s ability to protect the American economy,” wrote Warren.

Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO is circulating a petition urging its members to contact Congress to voice opposition to fast-track authority, which it argues gives "power brokers to shape trade deals to their advantage and shields the details from the public and policy experts alike."

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The silver lining for President Barack Obama in the dark cloud of the 2014 midterm elections is that with Republicans holding control of Congress, chances to move forward on approval of trade promotion authority (TPA) and other key trade deals have greatly improved.
trade agreements, Asia, Democrats
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2014-31-31
Wednesday, 31 Dec 2014 10:31 AM
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