The U.S. Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that is vital to finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) -- a free-trade deal between the U.S., Canada and 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, which gives the White House “fast track” authority to streamline the passage of international trade deals through Congress, was approved on a 20-to-6 vote.
The TPA bill, if passed by the Senate and the House in the coming weeks, would prohibit Congress from amending trade deals, instead allowing for just an up or down vote.
“Tonight’s Committee action marks a pivotal moment for international trade policy and reflects years of true bipartisan work,” U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the committee, reportedly said. In addition to the TPA bill, the committee also approved three other bills to “to bring new transparency, enforcement and labor protections to trade agreements.” This includes a bill that contains provisions to beef up rules against countries found to be manipulating their currencies.
“The Finance Committee is sending America’s trade policy in a more progressive direction than it ever has before,” Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said, in a statement. “With this legislation, our standards for trade agreements will be higher. Our enforcement of trade laws will be much tougher and our workers will have the support they need. The process of negotiating and moving trade agreements will be more open, more transparent, and more democratic.”
While U.S. President Barack Obama has made the TPP a major focus of his efforts to boost U.S. economic investment in Asia, many Democrats and labor unions have opposed the new trade deal over fears that it would benefit only the richest of Americans.
“Who will benefit from the TPP? American workers? Consumers? Small businesses? Taxpayers? Or the biggest multinational corporations in the world?” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), asked, in a recent op-ed, in the Washington Post.
However, Obama, who has received backing from Republican lawmakers for the TPP, has sought to alleviate concerns over the deal.
“I would not be doing this trade deal if I did not think it was good for the middle class. And when you hear folks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is, when you dig into the facts they are wrong,” Obama reportedly said earlier this week.