President Barack Obama Signals Readiness To Work on Getting Bipartisan TPA Passed

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By Rossella Brevetti

Dec. 4 — President Barack Obama told a trade friendly audience late Dec. 3 that he would work with Congress to get a bipartisan renewal of trade promotion authority (TPA) to promote U.S. exports and support American jobs.

Obama's videotaped remarks to the National Foreign Trade Council's (NFTC) centennial dinner celebration came on the same day he told Business Roundtable officials that he would make the case for TPA with congressional leaders of both parties (233 ITD, 12/4/14). NFTC members include Caterpillar Inc. and ConocoPhillips Inc.

TPA, which expired in 2007 and is unpopular with labor unions as well as many Democrats, is viewed by trade insiders as critical for wrapping up negotiations on the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and for advancing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). TPA sets out congressional negotiating objectives for trade pacts and bars potentially deal-busting amendments after legislation is formally introduced.

Speaking at the NFTC event, White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett and Commerce Undersecretary for International Trade Stefan Selig underscored the administration's commitment to getting TPA and to pursuing a robust trade agenda.

“We're feeling very optimistic,” Jarrett said in a reference to the president's trade agenda. Selig said he was committed to working with the Senate Finance Committee leadership, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and others to bring a TPA reauthorization measure to the president's desk. He added that he was equally committed to working to advance the remainder of the president's trade agenda so that U.S. workers and businesses can reap the benefits.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a former USTR, said the U.S. could not afford to delay action on TPA until 2017 when a new administration will be in place. “We're already falling behind,” Portman said. “There's a need to get back on the trade train.”

TPA Failed to Advance in 2014

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)—who received the 2014 World Trade Award at the NFTC dinner for his strong trade advocacy—said presidential leadership would be needed to get TPA passed.

“I'm counting on him leading so we can get the trade promotion authority bill through,” Hatch said. “We stand ready, willing and able to help the president in these matters,” said Hatch, who is expected to be Senate Finance Committee chairman in the 114th Congress that begins in January.

Hatch, along with former Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) introduced the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014 (S. 1900, H.R. 3830), which would have renewed TPA. The measure failed to advance after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shot down prospects for Senate consideration (20 ITD, 1/30/14). House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also was highly critical of the proposal, which the current Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) had been working on tweaking (85 ITD, 5/2/14).

In a prepared speech, Hatch said TPA will remain a top priority for him. Hatch said he would work with Wyden and other Senate and House lawmakers as well as the administration “to get it done, get it done right, and get it done soon.” However, he added that he would “not wait forever for everyone to be satisfied before moving forward.”

Once TPA is renewed, the TPP may finally reach a successful conclusion and other initiatives, such as the TTIP, the Trade in Services Agreement, and the Environmental Goods Agreement, will all get a boost, Hatch said in the speech. “With TPA renewed, America will have the tools necessary to lead once again,” he said.

Hatch Outlines Priorities

Hatch also said also once major trade legislation starts moving then other elements of the U.S. trade agenda will start to fall into place. He said he was “personally distressed” that the Finance Committee did not move any trade legislation in 2014. “That leaves us with much to do in the coming Congress,” he said.

Other trade priorities Hatch cited included renewal of Generalized System of Preferences duty-free benefits and the African Growth and Opportunity Act. In a reference to the stalled miscellaneous tariff bill, Hatch also called for a more predictable and uniform way to provide duty relief to U.S. manufacturers using foreign inputs that are not available domestically. He also said that modernization and reauthorization of U.S. Customs and Border Protection was long overdue.

Hatch said he was “deeply disappointed that protection of U.S. intellectual property rights does not appear to be a very high priority for this administration.” He added that he planned to assemble a coalition to ensure that U.S. international trade agreements contain strong intellectual property rights provisions, that the administration has necessary tools to fight intellectual property theft, and that international organizations such as the World Intellectual Property Organization and the World Health Organization pursue policies that advance protection of intellectual property rights.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rossella Brevetti in Washington at rbrevetti@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bna.com

Sen. Hatch's speech is available at http://tinyurl.com/q9frto4.