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TPA awaits Obama's signature
Jun '15
The trade-promotion bill known as the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) now heads to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature. It gives the executive branch additional powers for six years and authorizes the president, and his successor, to present trade deals to Congress for a vote on a specified timeline without lawmakers being able to amend the terms, media reports say.

Although the outcome is a full-fledged victory for Obama, the acrimony along the way has raised questions about the Democratic Party’s cohesion heading into the 2016 election cycle. Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, who supported the TPP as Obama’s secretary of state, sought to distance herself from the pact more recently.

Most Democrats have dismissed the strategic foreign policy benefits of the trade deal, warning instead that the TPP will cost US workers jobs in traditional manufacturing industries and exacerbate the nation’s widening income gap.

“The foreign policy establishment of the executive branch has divorced itself from the domestic policy,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Democrat-Ohio), who opposed the legislation.

Supporters see the TPA as critical to the success of a 12-nation trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that would help the US economy maintain an edge over China.

US officials expect the new authority to jump-start the final rounds of talks. Negotiators still must hammer out deals on a number of thorny issues, including new rules on access to Japanese auto and agriculture markets. In addition to lowering tariffs, the trade pact also aims to expand copyright and intellectual property protections and regulate the flow of information on the Internet.

Once negotiations are complete, the administration will have to get a final deal through another vote in Congress, during which labor unions are certain to renew their opposition efforts. The whole process could take six months or more and plunge the Democratic Party into further political turmoil in the middle of a presidential campaign.

Despite the political bickering, the business community in the US had been pushing for the TPA. The National Retail Federation which is the world’s largest retail trade association, has welcomed the passage of the TPA by the Senate.

In a statement, NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said, “This is a landmark step toward tearing down trade barriers that stand in the way of a truly free and open global economy. TPA will help complete trade agreements that will open new markets for US companies and help retailers provide American families with the products they need at prices they can afford. This will ultimately mean more jobs for American workers and lower prices for American consumers. After weeks of partisanship, it’s refreshing to see Congress finally put good policy ahead of politics.”

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