The United States Senate approved a legislation on Friday to give President Barack Obama “fast-track” authority to negotiate a 12-nation trade agreement.
Dubbed the Trade Promotion Authority Act (TPA), the bill was approved by a 62-37 vote and gives Congress the authority to approve or reject, but not to amend the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.
The TPP aims to increase trade among 12 Pacific nations - the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam - by easing trade barriers.
President Obama considers the TPP as one of the signature achievements in his economic legacy and an important step in his foreign policy of “pivot to Asia.”
"Today's bipartisan Senate vote is an important step toward ensuring the United States can negotiate and enforce strong, high-standards trade agreements," Obama said in a statement issued immediately after passage of the bill.
When finalised, the TPP will bring together countries that produce 40 percent of World GDP and considered a move to counter China’s economic influence.
The bill was approved after hours of discussion and voting on proposed amendments, some of which considered as poison pills.
One of the amendments that proposed sanctions for countries that use currency manipulations to increase their exports, was narrowly rejected with a 51-48 vote in the the Republican-controlled Senate.
Obama had said he would veto any bill that includes such sanctions.
Consideration of the bill in the Senate was stalled by Obama’s fellow Democrats led by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is known for her progressive stance.
Now, the legislation goes to House of Representatives, where it is expected to face a strong challenge.
Many conservative House Republicans oppose the bill saying it gives too much power to executive while the Democrats are worried of its possible effects on middle class workers with elections coming up next year.
The TPP is near completion after five years of negotiations but partner countries want fast track authorities approved before signing the deal.
Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari said earlier on Friday that ministerial meetings to finalise the TPP are unlikely until the US Congress gives fast-track authority to Obama.
House of Representatives is expected to take up the TPA in early June after the 10-day Congressional recess that starts this weekend.