Obama asks Congress for power to set trade pacts

Obama is seeking fast-track authority that would allow the White House to negotiate trade deals

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President Barack Obama asked Congress on Tuesday to give him the powers to fully negotiate huge transpacific and transatlantic free-trade agreements, arguing it will boost the economy and help American workers.

Obama warned in his annual State of the Union address that China is aiming to write its own trade rules for the Asian region, a move “that would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage.”

“Why would we let that happen? We should level the playing field,” he said.

“That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.”

Obama, seeking to complete the huge Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership pacts, admitted that past trade deals “haven’t always lived up to the hype.”

“But 95 percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities.”

Obama is seeking so-called fast-track authority that would allow the White House to negotiate complete trade deals and to submit them in their entirety to Congress to ratify, without the power to amend them.

The Pacific deal has been crafted without China, the world’s most powerful exporter which has countered with its own proposal for a common trade region in east and southeast Asia.

The Atlantic deal is being negotiated with the European Union, and progress has slowed due to resistance on both sides to measures seen as weakening consumer protections and exposing local businesses to too much competition.

Republicans in Congress have shown substantial support for giving Obama those powers. After his speech, Republican Senator Joni Ernst applauded Obama’s proposal for the trade deals, though without directly endorsing fast-track authority.

“Let’s tear down trade barriers in places like Europe and the Pacific. Let’s sell more of what we make and grow in America over there so we can boost manufacturing, wages and jobs right here, at home,” she said.

But Obama’s own Democratic Party is resisting, worried that the proposed deals could lead to job losses in US industry.

Earlier Tuesday a group of Democratic legislators gathered to demonstrate that they would vote against granting the president any special powers to negotiate the treaties.

“I will oppose the administration because of the devastating impact that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will have on jobs and wages in this country. My job is to serve my constituents, not special interests,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro.

“We in the Congress need to be able to scrutinize all the trade deals that the administration proposes and to make sure to safeguard jobs and health. With fast-track, we’re unable to do it.”

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