13 May, 2015
A proposed 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal has failed in its first major test in the United States Congress. The Senate voted Tuesday against consideration of Trade Promotion Authority, also known as "fast-track" authority. TPA would protect trade agreements with other countries against U.S. congressional interference. Instead, lawmakers could vote only for or against the agreement.
The Senate vote was 52 to 45. It fell short of the three-fifths support needed to begin debate on "fast-track" authority. Most Democratic Party members voted to block debate of the bill. They say the bill does not deal with trade enforcement and reported Chinese efforts to influence the value of China's money. They also say it fails to meet the needs of displaced American workers.
Senator Charles Schumer is a New York Democrat. He says Congress needs to help American citizens at a time of increased international competition.
"We know the global economy is a rough sea. And Republicans are asking us to pass a trade package that forces the American worker to navigate those waters in a leaky boat. We want to plug up those leaks."
Republican Mitch McConnell is the Senate's majority leader. He expressed dissatisfaction with the results of the vote. He noted that both Republicans and Democrats supported TPA in a Senate Finance Committee vote last month.
"There are always limits to what can be accomplished when the American people choose divided government," he said. "But ... it does not mean that" Congress should not work toward solutions that satisfy both parties.
Republican free-trade supporters hope to hold another vote on the issue. They said concerns of the bill's opponents can be discussed once debate begins again.
Senator Orrin Hatch is a Republican from Utah and supporter of "fast-track" authority.
"We're doing our very best to try and do what the (Obama) administration has wanted in this matter. They are right on it... Ninety-five percent of world trade is outside of our country. I might add that the average wages go up 13 to 18 percent through a trade agreement like this."
At issue is the ability to finalize a free trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim nations. Those 12 are responsible for 40 percent of the world's economic production. Five of the countries are in Asia. They are Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. The others are Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and the United States.
The effect of trade on American jobs makes the issue a difficult one for U.S. lawmakers. The vote on Tuesday was far from the end of debate in Congress. Most free-trade Senate Democrats say they hope to reach an agreement with the Republicans. They hope this will lead to a debate on TPA and the trade agreements it could help shape in the future.
I'm Jonathan Evans.
Words in This Story
enforcement – n. making a law or agreement effective
global – adj. involving the world; international
rough – adj. difficult; opposite of smooth or soft
finalize – v. to make something in a final or finished form