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Obama Hopeful on Trade Authority

The president said Thursday there could be enough bipartisan support in Congress to get approval for Trade Promotion Authority.

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Thursday there could be enough bipartisan support in Congress to get approval for Trade Promotion Authority, which will help his administration wrap up negotiations on an Asia-Pacific commercial pact and put more muscle behind ongoing trade talks with the European Union.

This story first appeared in the September 20, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Obama, who made remarks to chief executive officers, members of his cabinet and governors from several states attending the President’s Export Council meeting Thursday, said he needs TPA, formerly called “fast-track authority,” since under its rules, Congress does not have the ability to amend trade pacts negotiated by the executive branch and can only vote up or down on them.

The administration has been negotiating several agreements without the authority, but it is much more difficult to get Congressional approval for them without the authority, and trading partners are typically not willing to close deals because Congress might later mandate changes without TPA.

“We are going to need [to get] Trade Promotion Authority through Congress,” Obama said. “But this is an area where, so far at least, [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) says he is for it and that’s good. So we may be able to get some good bipartisan support to get that done.”

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The authority, which expired in 2007 under then-President George W. Bush, is seen as vital to completing several trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations between the U.S. and 11 other countries and the Trans-Atlantic trade deal between the U.S. and EU.

Obama said his administration is “very far along in trying to get the [TPP] deal done.”

Obama’s comments about TPA were seen as positive by trade experts, although getting such legislation through Congress this year is seen as unlikely.

“[Obama] has not been terribly enthusiastic about trade until quite recently, and this is a good step forward,” said Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “I think politically it is unlikely [this year] because of the way time will be consumed in Congress over the debt limit and a continuing resolution to keep the government going.”

Hufbauer noted that prospects for TPA legislation — supported by a majority of Republicans over the past several years — are brighter next year, adding he expects Congress to pass a bill by next summer.