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Senate Passes Trade Promotion Authority

The Republican-led U.S. Senate passed the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill Friday evening, giving President Obama’s trade agenda a major victory.

The lawmakers voted 62-37 in favor of the “fast-track” trade bill. The president’s trade agenda faced opposition from some members of his Democratic Party, who tried to block its passage.

Obama commented after the bill’s approval that its agreements “are vital to expanding opportunities for the middle class, leveling the playing field for American workers, and establishing rules for the global economy that help our businesses grow and hire by selling goods Made in America to the rest of the world.”

Fast-track negotiating authority will allow the president to propose trade agreements that Congress can either reject or ratify, but not change.

Obama has made TPA a focal point of his remaining time in office, saying it is crucial to advancing the Trans-Pacific Partnership of nations, or TPP. The TPP would create the world’s largest free trade zone, spanning half the globe.

The Chinese government is reportedly concerned that this enormous zone, which excludes China, could threaten its economy.

In the United States, fast-track authority and planned free trade pacts with Pacific Rim nations and the European Union are opposed by a number of Democrats and some Republicans.

Trade Promotion Authority bill is expected to face an even rockier road to passage in the House of Representatives, where it will likely need the support of most of the Republican majority to pass.

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American Apparel and Footwear Association President Juanita D. Duggan applauded the move in a statement, saying, “We’re thrilled the Senate passed TPA today in advance of the Memorial Day recess. Passage of TPA sets the stage for the House to consider a package of important trade measures in June. The clothing and shoe industry, and the four million U.S. workers it employs, depends on trade. Our members can only remain competitive if they can access new markets and global partners seamlessly.”

She added, “The early passage will help our member companies reach new customers and foster long-term trade partnerships with countries in Africa, Haiti, and throughout the developing world.”

TPA passage is needed for the completion of pending trade agreements with the Pacific Rim countries and Europe.

Last week, the Senate passed the Trade Preferences Extension Act, which includes: extension of the Haiti HELP/HOPE program; a 10-year renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA); renewal and update of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).

Both measures are included as part of the trade packages that will be considered by the House as early as next month.