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Saturday Update: President Calls on Congress to Pass Trade Promotion Authority

From the White House, “In this week’s address, the President underscored the importance of continuing to grow our economy and support good-paying jobs for our workers by opening up new markets for American goods and services.

“While America’s businesses, ranchers, and farmers are already exporting goods at record levels, there’s more room for growth with 95 percent of the world’s customers living outside our borders. In order to pursue new trade agreements, the President called on Congress to pass trade promotion authority so that the U.S. — not China — can play a leading role in negotiating 21st century trade deals that protect our workers, support good wages, and help grow the middle class.”

A complete transcript of the President’s remarks can be found here.

Reuters news reported on Saturday that, “Congressional Republicans have been supportive of trade deals. Senator Orrin Hatch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has said he hopes to introduce a ‘fast track’ bill in February.

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that Obama needed to ‘continue what must be a sustained effort to move his own party forward’ on working on trade legislation.

Labor and environmental groups allied with Democrats have been pushing hard against the idea. Even among the Obama-friendly crowd at the Democratic National Committee on Thursday, several people wore ‘Stop Fast Track’ stickers.”

William Mauldin reported in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal that, “House and Senate negotiators are converging on a deal to ease the passage of trade agreements, a key step in putting the divisive issue before the full Congress as the White House pursues a sweeping trade pact in Asia.

“The legislation, known as trade promotion authority or fast track, comes as the Obama administration is seeking to conclude negotiations on a 12-nation Pacific trade deal—the economic centerpiece of the president’s rebalancing of U.S. policy toward Asia.”

The Journal article stated that, “Aides to congressional committee leaders Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) have settled most disagreements over the legislation, say people familiar with the talks.

“One remaining issue—a technical but crucial element—is how Congress would be able to remove an unacceptable trade deal from the fast track process, these people say. Complications on that issue or others could still delay or unravel any agreement, they say.

“A deal to introduce the legislation could be reached in days, observers say, after Mr. Ryan returns from a trade-focused trip to Asia.”

Mr. Mauldin noted that, “Mr. Hatch on Friday called a hearing next week of his Senate Finance Committee to discuss trade policy and potentially the new bill. But Mr. Wyden, the top Democrat on the panel, said a hearing is ‘premature’ because a final deal hasn’t been struck yet. Mr. Ryan said Thursday in Japan that a deal is ‘very close.’

“Many Democrats, labor unions and environmental groups oppose the legislation, saying it is a way for the administration to push a deal with unacceptable provisions through Congress.”

Meanwhile, Vicki Needham reported on Friday at The Hill Online that, “Negotiators of a massive trade deal spanning from Latin America to Asia are scheduled to meet next month in Hawaii.

“The U.S. Trade Representative’s office said Friday that the United States will host a chief negotiators meeting from March 9-15 to continue hammering out the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).”

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