Washington — The U.S. House is set to vote as soon as Friday on a bill to give President Barack Obama fast track authority to negotiate an Asia Pacific free trade deal that would represent nearly 40 percent of the world’s economy.
One of the key blocks of undecided members are a group of Michigan Republicans including Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester Hills, retiring Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township and Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham.
For more than seven years, the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada and eight other nations have been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would create a free trade zone. Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam are also part of the negotiations.
A free trade deal could be the single biggest change in global auto production in the last half century. Proponents say it could open more markets to U.S. autos, but critics say it would make it easier to shift production to lower wage countries.
Five Michigan Republicans — including Bishop, Trott, Reps. John Moolenar of Midland, Dan Benishek of Crystal Falls and Bill Huizenga of Zeeland sent a letter to Ryan “stressing the need to fight currency manipulation in trade-related legislation in the House.”
Ryan wrote the five Michigan members back to say the fast track bill would include provisions to increase engagement on currency issues and create an advisory committee on exchange rate policies — but it will stop fall short of what Ford and Democrats have demanded.
The United Auto Workers union and Ford Motor Co., are pushing members to oppose fast track authority without provisions that would bar currency manipulation.
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint and Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Fla., and Ford are backing a House amendment that mirrored a Senate proposal to making currency manipulation an enforceable issue in a trade agreement. It’s not clear if that amendment will get a vote.
“Our bipartisan amendment is simple — it puts teeth into Trade Promotion Authority and addresses currency manipulation by holding countries who deliberately deflate the value of their currency accountable,” Congressman Kildee said.
“My home state of Michigan has seen first-hand the loss of tens of thousands of good-paying jobs due to the past failure to address currency manipulation. If Congress fails to adopt this amendment and address the biggest barrier to fair trade — currency manipulation — American workers will be forced to compete on an uneven playing field.”
“We need to find a way to get Congress into the act, when it comes to manipulation of currency,” said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak. “It costs millions of jobs.”
Levin and many midwestern members of Congress say currency manipulation by China and Japan have cost millions of factory jobs.
The Senate voted 62-37 last month to allow the Obama administration to get an up or down vote on trade deals without amendments. Both Michigan senators voted against it and most members of Michigan’s delegation oppose the bill.
House Republicans are not expected to allow any amendments on the fast track measure.
In the House, nearly all Democrats oppose the measure. The White House will rely on Republicans to get most of the 218 votes needed to approve the bill.
The biggest issue for automakers is whether the bill will include provisions on currency. Proponents lost a bid to get currency included in the Senate version of fast-track.
Reducing the value of another country’s currency makes its exports cheaper and its imports more expensive in dollar terms.
The administration has steadfastly refused to yield any ground, but in recent months shifted its tone to emphasize that it sympathizes with people who are worried about currency manipulation and pointed to efforts through international forums like the World Trade Organization to address it.