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US Congress moves on fast tracking trade deals

The US Senate and House of Representatives introduced legislation on January 9 to fast-track Congressional approval of trade agreements. Though business lobbies widely approved the move, criticism from other lobbies was fierce, and opponents are reportedly considering completely different legislation to handle any deals negotiators might strike.

By US law, all treaties – like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)  and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated with the EU – need Congressional approval, but the process has recently been taking many years. To accelerate this, advocates of the deals want a process called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which limits (or possibly prevents) Congressional amendments to negotiated deals. The legislation proposed on January 9 (the Trade Priorities Act) outlines a series of principles negotiators have to follow in agreeing trade deals, summarised at TPA summary.

The TPP and TTIP are widely supported by business lobbies, most of whom rushed out support statements as soon as the legislation was announced. But there is intense opposition from many other sources, and one influential member of the House of Representatives is reportedly is reportedly working on his own TPA bill to strengthen provisions on labour, transparency, congressional involvement, currency manipulation and other issues.

The President of the AFL-CIO, America’s leading labour organisation, Richard Trumka called the legislation “out of date, poorly conceived, and bad for American workers.” He said the federation would “actively work to block its passage.”. The AFL-CIO has limited political influence these days – but it can be an accurate reflection of views in the Democrat party, and Trumka’s approach is likely to reflect the views of many voters, on both sides of the political fence, in the  elections throughout 2014 that lead up to the November election for  all seats in the House of Representatives and a third of seats in the Senate.

The previous day, six Republican and Democrat politicians had written to President Obama expressing worries that ““A well-negotiated TPP…that fails to address foreign currency manipulation could further harm the United States economy by leading to a permanent unfair trade relationship,” expressing a concern that 230 members of the House of Representatives and 60 senators had written to the administration about during 2013.

Primary election start in Texas on March 14 and Illinois on March 18.