Senate approves fast-track trade authority

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The U.S. Senate approved fast-track trade authority and sent the measure to President Barack Obama, handing him a major victory and setting the stage for a final agreement on a massive Asia Pacific free-trade deal.

The Senate voted 60-38 to approve the measure Wednesday, less than two weeks after a vote by House Democrats put the trade deal in serious jeopardy. The deal will mean negotiators will be able to complete the negotiations on the 12-nation free trade pact.

Under the rules, at least 60 days must pass before an up or down vote on the trade pact is taken, meaning Congress isn’t likely to vote until September or October.

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. The pact would cover one-third of global trade and nearly 40 percent of the world’s economy. The deal could reshape auto production around the world.

The Senate also voted 76-22 to advance job training assistance for workers who lose their jobs as a result of global trade. It then voted unanimously by voice vote to approve it and send it to the House for a vote on Thursday.

Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, voted against the fast-track measure, but voted for job training assistance. Since 2009, Michigan has had the second-highest number of workers benefit from the job-training program.

U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman praised the Senate votes.

“A bipartisan majority of the Senate has now joined a similar majority in the House in demonstrating that there is broad support for U.S. leadership in establishing the rules for trade,” said Froman, who will negotiate the final deal. “Congress has given us its marching orders, including unprecedented requirements for transparency and consultation, and we look forward to continuing our work with Congress as we carry them out.”

The administration argues that dropping barriers and tariffs with fast-growing economies will support millions of U.S. jobs through higher exports. And they argue it will strengthen the U.S. alliance with Japan, a key counterbalance to China’s rising influence.

Peters said the fast-track trade bill, which would extend the authority to negotiate trade deals for six years, “lacks strong enforcement measures to protect American workers and drastically curbs Congress’ ability to shape future trade agreements.” He said it could “hurt Michigan workers and cost thousands of American manufacturing jobs.”

A trade deal could boost some Michigan companies but hurt others. U.S. automakers and the United Auto Workers union say that without provisions on currency manipulation, foreign automakers could undercut them, a move that could shift production outside the United States.

But others praised it. The 1,400-member Michigan Corn Growers Association called it a “major victory” for Michigan farmers that could open new markets for exports.

The House is set to vote separately on job training on Thursday.

The votes were a big turnaround from the previous week, when the House overwhelming denied — with a 302-129 vote — an extension of job-training assistance that the president had hoped would ease fears that American jobs could be lost. Without re-authorization, the job-training program will end in September.

Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, the Democrats’ point person on trade, said Wednesday the administration must reach a strong final trade deal.

“We must take steps to be sure our TPP trading partners don’t manipulate their currencies to gain an unfair advantage over our business and workers,” Levin said. “The issue is not pro-trade versus anti-trade, but whether we shape trade agreements to spread the benefits broadly, including to middle-class Americans.”