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Business, Labor Advocates Spar Over 'Fast Track' for Pacific Trade

  • Michael Bowman
  • VOA News

America’s top business advocate and its biggest labor boss sparred over proposed “fast track” legislation to facilitate the formation and approval of a mammoth 12-nation Pacific trading bloc.

“Congress must approve TPA [Trade Promotion Authority],” said U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, testifying Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee. “Nearly 40 million American jobs depend on trade. The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement would open the Asia-Pacific dynamic markets to American goods and services.”

TPA, or “fast track,” subjects trade pacts to up-or-down congressional votes with no amendments allowed and has been used to approve major accords such as the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiated the 1990s.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the mechanism “cedes important and long-lasting decisions about our economy to a few negotiators in a small room in the middle of the night. This is undemocratic. It’s wrong. And it has led to disastrous policies for America’s workers and producers.”

Last week, the Finance Committee’s chairman, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, and its top Democrat, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, unveiled a bipartisan proposal for TPA that, if approved, would significantly boost prospects for completing and launching the Trans-Pacific Partnership of 12 nations that, combined, account for about 40 percent of global gross domestic product.

“Trade is an essential element of a healthy economy,” said Hatch. “We should be doing all we can to advance a trade agenda that works for America and advances our interests on the world stage.”

Trumka said the current proposal is weak on workers’ rights, environmental standards and other key areas. He expressed a strong desire to work with Congress to improve it.

Donohue spoke out against delays. “Tomorrow is too late. Today is the time to move on these issues,” he said.

Congressional debate on Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership promises to be the most raucous and polarizing on any issue likely to be taken up by U.S. lawmakers this year.