WASHINGTON — Fashion industry trade groups expressed concern Wednesday about growing momentum in the House against granting President Obama trade promotion authority, a tool many experts argue he needs to help wrap up negotiations on an Asia-Pacific trade pact that is heading into the final stages of negotiation.

This story first appeared in the November 14, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The authority, formerly known as “fast track,” 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 European Union. Under TPA, Congress does not have the ability to amend trade pacts negotiated by the executive branch and can only vote up or down on them.

Chief trade negotiators in the TPP talks are set to hold a key negotiating session in Salt Lake City next week and plan to follow that up with what they hope will be a final push at a ministerial level TPP meeting in Singapore in early December. But two separate letters sent to Obama from House Republicans and Democrats, representing a combined 175 lawmakers, opposing TPA in its current form have raised some red flags about the prospects for getting TPP over the finish line this year.

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U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the administration is committed to giving Congress “a strong role in determining U.S. trade policy, and one of the best ways they can do that is to pass a law codifying their direction to the Administration for negotiating trade agreements.” Froman added, “We will continue to consult with Congress on the importance of TPA as a longstanding tool for shaping U.S. trade policy on behalf of the American people.”

Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, said, “It is impossible to conclude a good agreement without TPA in hand. Certainly any agreement could be concluded, but it won’t be the same high standard, 21st-century type of agreement if all sides at the table know that Congress could amend the agreement at any point.”

Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said, “We haven’t seen a situation where we were this close to the end game of finalizing a trade agreement and did not have TPA in place. I think if TPP doesn’t close in December as hoped, then a possible long, drawn-out fight over TPA could impact [the trade deal].”

But Auggie Tantillo, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations, said: “I don’t buy this nonsense that the other governments are not going to sign a deal [because the U.S. does not have TPA]. The leverage the U.S. has is that it is granting access to 320 million consumers.…That by a factor of 10 is greater than the rest of TPP combined. If that is not enough incentive for them to sign a deal, too bad.”

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