Senate Finance Chief Wants Trade Promotion Bill This Year

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said on Tuesday he hoped to pass legislation this year to boost the White House’s ability to negotiate new trade agreements, renewing a law known as trade promotion authority that expired in 2007.

Baucus said he wanted to renew both trade promotion authority (TPA) and trade adjustment assistance (TAA), a federal program that provides funding to help retrain workers that have lost their jobs because of import competition or factories moving overseas.

“TPA and TAA are two sides of the same coin making trade work. We need to renew and extend both of them this year,” Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, said at a hearing of his committee on the White House’s trade agenda.

Acting Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis told Baucus the administration was ready to work with Congress to approve the legislation, as it attempts to wrap up trade talks in the Asia Pacific this year and launch new trade talks with the European Union in coming months.

Trade promotion authority, also known as “fast track,” allows the White House to submit trade deals to Congress for straight up-or-down votes without any amendments.

It is considered important to trade negotiations as it assures other countries that any deal struck by the White House won’t be picked apart by Congress.

President Barack Obama did not try during his first four years in office to win approval of the legislation, although a recent report by the Trade Representative’s office said the administration was prepared to engage with Congress now.

Senator Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the finance committee, welcomed the administration’s new commitment to pursue TPA. “I take this promise as a sign of progress but we have already wasted four years. We can’t afford to waste any more time,” Hatch said.