In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysians protested a trade proposal between the United States and a dozen Pacific Rim countries. By ANNIE LOWREY Published: November 12, 2013 WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is rushing to reach a new deal intended to lower barriers to trade with a dozen Pacific Rim nations, including Japan and Canada, before the end of the year. But the White House is now facing new hurdles closer to home, with nearly half of the members of the House signing letters or otherwise signaling their opposition to granting so-called fast-track authority that would make any agreement immune to a Senate filibuster and not subject to amendment. No major trade pact has been approved by Congress in recent decades without such authority. Two new House letters with about 170 signatories in total — the latest and strongest iteration of long-simmering opposition to fast-track authority and to the trade deal more broadly — have been disclosed just a week before international negotiators are to meet in Salt Lake City for another round of talks. “Some of us have opposed past trade deals and some have supported them, but when it comes to fast track, members of Congress from across the political spectrum are united,” said Representative Walter B. Jones Jr. of North Carolina, who circulated the Republican letter. Without fast-track authority, however, the other countries in the negotiations might balk at American requests since they wouldn’t be sure the final deal would remain unchanged. And getting both houses of Congress to agree to the final deal might be close to impossible without the fast-track authority, which the Obama administration has requested and which is being pursued in the Senate by Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, along with the top Republican on the committee, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah. “This could be the end of T.P.P.,” said Lori Wallach of Public Citizen, a watchdog group that has opposed the deal, formally called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “All these other countries are like, ‘Wait, you have no trade authority and nothing you’ve promised us means anything? Why would we give you our best deal?’ Why would you be making concessions to the emperor who has no clothes?” Michael B. Froman, the United States trade representative, said that he continued to work with Congress on fast-track authority, also known as trade promotion authority. “We believe that Congress should have a strong role in determining U.S. trade policy — and one of the best ways they can do that is to pass a law codifying their direction to the administration for negotiating trade agreements,” Mr. Froman said. “We will continue to consult with Congress on the importance of T.P.A. as a longstanding tool for shaping U.S. trade policy on behalf of the American people.” The Obama administration has conducted a behind-the-scenes campaign to win over congressional offices and keep members — in particular, key committee members — informed. “Everything we do with trade policy is done hand-in-glove with Congress,” Mr. Froman said in recent remarks, where he also emphasized that there was no trade agreement yet, and that the administration continued to get feedback from Congress about what to include in the deal. But coming to an agreement at home might be as much of a hurdle as doing so internationally. Senate aides said that the overloaded congressional calendar posed a challenge to passing fast-track authority by the end of the year, but that they thought it still had enough bipartisan support to win passage in the Senate. “The legislative window is closing,” said Sean Neary, a spokesman for Senator Baucus. “This is a priority.” The greater challenge lies in the House, where opposition to the fast-track authority comes from both policy and process concerns, and from a range of liberals, conservatives and moderates. Many members have had a longstanding opposition to certain elements of the deal, arguing it might hurt American workers and disadvantage some American businesses. Those concerns are diverse, including worries about food safety, intellectual property, privacy and the health of the domestic auto industry. Others say that they are upset that the Obama administration has, in their view, kept Congress in the dark about the negotiations, by not allowing congressional aides to observe the negotiations and declining to make certain full texts available. “We remain deeply troubled by the continued lack of adequate congressional consultation in many areas of the proposed pact that deeply implicate Congress’ constitutional and domestic policy authorities,” said the House Democrats’ letter, circulated by Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and George Miller of California. The House Democratic letter has about 151 signatories. On the Republican side, 22 lawmakers signed a similar letter. Other members have signaled their opposition independently, meaning that roughly 40 percent to 50 percent of House members have signaled that they have concerns about, or oppose, the use of fast-track authority. The T.P.P. as outlined is aimed at reducing barriers, cutting red tape and harmonizing international regulations, though it is also expected to include numerous provisions protecting a wide variety of interests, both at home and abroad, from increased competition. This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Correction: November 13, 2013 An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the position of roughly 40 to 50 percent of House members on a pending issue involving a trade agreement with Pacific Rim nations. They have signaled that they have concerns about, or oppose, the use of fast-track authority to push through such an accord, not that they do not support the pact itself.
Posted on: Thu, 14 Nov 2013 23:39:54 +0000
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