WASHINGTON — The U.S. trade agenda took a big leap forward on Thursday when Senate and House lawmakers introduced the long-awaited Trade Promotion Authority legislation.

This story first appeared in the April 17, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

As a sign of a new era of trade in Washington, lawmakers also introduced a separate trade omnibus package that, if approved, would renew or expand trade preference programs important to the fashion industry.

After months of intensive negotiations, Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), and ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), and House Ways and Means Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) introduced new TPA legislation in their respective chambers, potentially advancing trade policy and boosting the hopes of trade advocates eager to see an Asia-Pacific trade deal completed.

Retailers and apparel associations that have a big stake in the measure lauded the move by senior lawmakers to introduce TPA, seen as a linchpin to completing several agreements, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the U.S. and 11 other countries, which the administration has said it is close to completing. Under TPA, Congress can only vote up or down on a trade agreement, which gives the administration leverage with trading partners. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and European Union is another key initiative under way.

The bill, dubbed “The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act,” reestablishes the president’s authority for three years, with an option to renew for another three, and outlines the Congressional negotiating objectives that any administration must follow when negotiating such pacts.

“Our nation has been without Trade Promotion Authority since 2007, so while other nations have moved forward and created trade agreements to benefit their workers, the United States has fallen behind,” Hatch said. “This is a smart, bipartisan compromise that will help move America forward. The renewal of TPA will help American workers and job creators unlock new opportunities for growth and promote better, higher-paying jobs here at home. If we want to maintain our nation’s economic leadership and promote American values around the world, we must reach beyond our borders, and this bill is a strong first step.”

Wyden said, “This bill, together with strong new enforcement tools, Trade Adjustment Assistance and the Health Coverage Tax Credit, sets our country on the right track to craft trade policies that work for more people. I’m proud this bipartisan bill creates what I expect to be unprecedented transparency in trade negotiations, and ensures future trade deals break new ground to promote human rights, improve labor conditions and safeguard the environment. At the core of this agreement is a new mandate for the Open Internet, free speech and digital commerce, by ensuring information can flow freely across national borders over the Internet.”

It includes new measures to combat currency manipulation, updated provisions to address government involvement in cyber theft and a high level of intellectual property protection.

Another new mechanism allows Congress to withdraw expedited TPA procedures if the House or Senate deems that the administration failed to meet the negotiating requirements of TPA. With respect to trade in textiles and apparel, the TPA bill seeks to “obtain opportunities for U.S. exports of textiles and apparel in foreign markets substantially equivalent to the competitive opportunities afforded foreign exports in U.S. markets and to achieve fairer and more open conditions of trade in textiles and apparel,” a fact sheet said.

Fashion industry trade groups offered universal praise for the new trade measures.

“Today’s news that a bipartisan bill on Trade Promotion Authority was introduced is a very welcome development,” said Juanita Duggan, president and chief executive officer at the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “Congressional approval of TPA will be an important precursor toward completion of the pending trade deals with Europe and the Pacific Rim. Equally important, Congressional consideration of TPA paves the way for renewing expired and expiring trade measures (such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act and the Generalized System of Preferences). We hope Congress approves these and other measures, which are vital for our members in reducing costs, promoting investment and supporting trade-based jobs, both in the United States and abroad.”

Matthew Shay, president and ceo at the National Retail Federation, said, “It is vitally important that Congress support international trade by tearing down barriers to markets and reducing tariffs. We urge Congress to quickly pass TPA legislation in order to conclude trade agreements currently being negotiated.”

Julia Hughes, president of the U.S Fashion Industry Association, said, “We’re glad Congress and the Obama administration are focusing on trade. The passage of TPA, the conclusion of TPP and TTIP, and the renewal of important initiatives like the African Growth & Opportunity Act, the Nicaragua Tariff Preference Level [which was not included in bills introduced Thursday], and the Generalized System of Preferences will help American businesses and consumers as well as boost jobs and the economy in the United States.”

Underscoring the point that TPA is a catalyst for advancing other trade measures, senior lawmakers separately introduced an omnibus trade package in both chambers. The AGOA Extension and Enhancement Act of 2015 would extend AGOA for a decade, including a 10-year extension of third-country fabric provisions; renew the GSP that expired in July 2013 and extend it until the end of 2017, and extends trade benefits in the HOPE and HELP programs for products from Haiti through September 2025.