Major labor unions and business groups clashed Tuesday over President Barack Obama’s bid for “fast track” authority to advance trade deals being negotiated with numerous nations. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told the Senate Finance Committee that the fast track legislation would rob Congress of a meaningful role in shaping trade deals.
“The idea that fast track lets Congress set the standards and goals for the TPP is an absolute fiction,” Trumka said, referring to the pending 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Trumka added the Pacific-rim deal “has been under negotiation for more than five years and is essentially complete. Congress cannot set meaningful negotiating objectives in a fast track bill if the administration has already negotiated most of the key provisions.
Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said fast-track authority is crucial to ratifying deals that would help U.S. producers reach big foreign markets.
Without fast track, Donohue said, “the United States is relegated to the sidelines as other nations negotiate trade agreements without us, putting American workers, farmers, and companies at a competitive disadvantage.”
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia is among the Democrats who support the trade proposals. The Pacific-rim negotiations aren’t perfect, he said, but they would require the participating nations to improve standards for workers’ rights, among other things. “Let’s not miss the opportunity for America to once again reassert its leadership” in trade, Warner said.
The Senate could vote fairly soon on the fast track bill. Leaders of the Republican-controlled House leaders could follow suit if they think they have the votes to pass it.