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US Senate Committee Approves Trade Promotion Authority Bill

President Barack Obama, center speaks during a meeting of leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries last year in Beijing.

President Barack Obama, center speaks during a meeting of leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries last year in Beijing.

From VOA Learning English, this is the Economics Report.

A United States congressional committee has passed a bill aimed at easing approval of future U.S. trade agreements with other countries. The Senate Finance Committee approved Trade Promotion Authority, also known as “fast track” legislation, on Wednesday. The new version of TPA confirms the power of the president to negotiate trade agreements. The measure sets congressional goals and guidance for trade negotiations. But once an agreement is reached, it requires lawmakers to vote either for or against the deal, without proposing amendments.

The committee passed TPA on a vote of 20 to six. The bill now goes to the full Senate, where heated debate is expected.

The United States is currently active in negotiations on two major trade agreements. One is the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. Those talks involve the United States and 11 other nations around the Pacific Ocean. The other agreement, with the European Union, is called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Trade promotion authority is considered important to passage for both trade deals.

Gary Hufbauer is a senior fellow at the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C. He is hopeful about the possibility of progress in talks between U.S. and Japanese officials on the Trans Pacific Partnership. He expects Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to agree to concessions in Japan’s meat and dairy markets. Mr. Abe is making a state visit to Washington next week.

The discussions are about opening Japan’s agricultural and automobile markets, as well as the U.S. auto parts market. So says Masamichi Adachi, a senior economist with JPMorgan Chase in Tokyo. He remains concerned about the debate over trade promotion authority in the U.S. Congress.

"If the Congress gives President Obama this authority, then the negotiations would be much easier and that’s a key event that we see in progress on this negotiation."

President Barack Obama says the United States has to shape the rules so that American businesses and workers can compete in Asian markets. If the U.S. does not act, he says, China will.

Mr. Hufbauer says the Asian free-trade agreement will lead to greater U.S. involvement in setting rules on issues such as state-owned companies, investments and taxes. He calls the Trans-Pacific Partnership a “gateway” agreement for other countries to join. He expects China to align itself with the agreement in five to seven years.

U.S. officials are also negotiating another version of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Those talks opened Monday in New York City. That agreement covers trade with the E.U.

The aim of the agreement is to remove tariffs, simplify trade processes and remove restrictions on trade in areas that affect 800 million people. Supporters say the agreement could create 13 million jobs on either side of the Atlantic.

President Barack Obama has called for progress this year in talks with the 28-nation E.U. Yet there is strong opposition in Congress to the measure, and many opponents are in Mr. Obama’s own party.

There also is opposition to trade talks in Europe. Last Saturday, thousands of people demonstrated in Germany and other countries to protest the trade talks.

And that’s the Economics Report from VOA Learning English. I’m Mario Ritter.

The story is based on reports from VOA’s Victor Beattie and Michael Bowman in Washington. Mario Ritter wrote it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

authority – n. the power to give orders or make a decision

tariffs – n. a tax on good coming into or leaving a country

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