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House Passes Stand-Alone TPA

By a vote of 218 to 208, the House passed Trade Promotion Authority, or fast track, Thursday, which would give President Barack Obama the power to negotiate a Pacific trade deal that can’t be amended by Congress.

The narrow victory follows a stunning defeat last week, when Democrats killed a measure to provide assistance to displaced workers known as Trade Adjustment Assistance. TAA has strong support from Democrats, but its defeat kept the TPA from going to the president for his signature because the two were tied together in one bill already passed by the Senate. Republican leaders in the House and Senate agreed to send both measures back to the Senate separately for another vote. The Senate is expected to take up TPA next week.

Most farm groups welcomed this step in a tortuous process bitterly opposed by labor unions who see the Trans-Pacific Partnership that is in final stages of negotiations as another trade deal that will cost U.S. workers jobs.

“Trade Promotion Authority is undeniably important to the U.S. wheat industry and American agriculture,” said Brett Blankenship, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. “On behalf of U.S. wheat growers, we applaud the House for their commitment to increasing trade opportunities for our growers. Providing our trade negotiators with the tools to finalize trade negotiations is critical to keeping America in the lead on trade talks and wheat growers at the table.

“American farmers and ranchers lead the world in food production thanks to ceaseless hard work and innovation. Expanding access to international markets continues this story of growth and prosperity,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling said, “We must break down trade barriers and give America’s farmers, livestock producers, and businesses greater access to the world’s consumers. We are one step closer to that goal today. Trade Promotion Authority is essential to negotiating the kinds of global trade agreements that will increase demand for American agricultural products.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway said TPA does give Congress influence over trade negotiations. "This bill includes the strongest measures to date for ensuring that the President sticks to the negotiating objectives laid down by Congress and prevents President Obama from acting unilaterally. Trade is incredibly important to agriculture, with exports accounting for nearly one-third of total U.S. farm income. With 95% of the world’s population residing outside of the United States, it is imperative that the U.S. works to expand market access while eliminating international barriers to trade.”

Only 28 Democrats in the House voted for TPA and 50 Republicans opposed it. 

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