WASHINGTON—The top U.S. trade official urged Congress on Tuesday to back President Barack Obama’s plan for increasing trade with other nations by using fast-track authority.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the administration needs a streamlined approval process for trade deals, such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“The contours of a final agreement are coming into focus, and we have made important progress in the market access negotiations and in addressing a number of twenty-first century issues,” Froman said in prepared remarks for the Senate Finance Committee.
Trade Promotion Authority — or TPA as it’s widely known — is a process where Congress grants simplified oversight on trade negotiations and agreements.
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the committee’s chairman, called for the renewal of TPA, which allows the administration to gain congressional approval with a “yes” or “no” vote.
Several Democratic senators were skeptical that renewal was the right call.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would not support any form of TPA that does not protect middle class families’ income. TPA must be put alongside tools to protect jobs and currency from being manipulated, he said.
Ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon also expressed concern, referring to Obama’s statement during the State of the Union when the president said “past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the currency aspect of Obama’s agenda is a critical aspect in making sure Americans are getting a “good deal” with trade proposals. Stabenow called for more specifics from the administration surrounding about the impacts on American currency.
Froman pointed to his office’s new website, which now provides detailed information on the administration’s trade agenda and trade issues under negotiation, as an effort at transparency.
With a Republican-controlled Congress, senators wanted to know whether Obama was actually committed to working with Congress on a trade agenda both parties could agree to. Froman assured senators the president is committed to compromise on trade.
Froman also said the administration is working with Congress to make sure trade proposals provide good-paying jobs for Americans.
The president’s call for increased trade authority has also prompted debate on trade agreements and protests from the public.
Tuesday’s Senate hearing was no exception. A number of protesters interrupted the beginning of the proceedings, saying the trade agreements being proposed and fast-tracking trade legislation would be harmful for Americans. Capitol Police removed the disruptive protesters.