The US Senate approved a legislation on Wednesday giving President Barack Obama so called “fast-track” authorities to negotiate international trade deals which would open the way to finalise a 12-nation Pacific Rim trade agreement.
The bill dubbed the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) cleared the Senate with a 60-38 vote after almost two months of congressional battles and setbacks, and now goes to Obama’s desk for his signature.
With fast-track authority, Obama will have the power to negotiate the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal without the risk of congressional amendments after signing, as the TPA restricts the Congress’ to a yes-or-no vote on the agreement.
Despite personal appeals from Obama, Democrats in the House of Representatives had blocked the bill with a political maneuver two weeks ago saying it would hurt American workers encouraging businesses to move abroad.
Since then, Obama cooperated with Republicans both in House and the Senate in an unlikely alliance to move the bill forward despite strong opposition from labour unions and Democratic lawmakers.
The TPP is a central part of Obama’s foreign policy agenda, Pivot to Asia, as it aims to balance against rising economic and political influence of China.
The deal brings 12 nations from around the pacific - United States, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Peru, Chile, and Brunei - which make about 40 percent of the World economy.
Fast-track authorities are crucial for Obama as negotiating countries led by Japan wanted it to pass before finalising the TPP.
Now that the president got the fast-track authorities, the TPP is expected to be finalised in a short time following resolution on the last remaining issues in the negotiations.
The Senate also approved with unanimous support a bill dubbed Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) aimed at helping workers disadvantaged as result of international trade agreements.
The aid bill was used as a ploy tool by the House Democrats to block the TPA two weeks ago when they voted against it despite their historical support for it.
The TAA is expected to be approved by the House on Thursday, now that the TPA has already passed the both houses and needs only president’s signature to go into effect.