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Senate Advances Fast Track Bill

The Senate voted 65-33 Thursday to advance a Trade Promotion Authority bill, or Fast Track, opening it to votes on amendments that could last until the Memorial Day recess. 

“The negotiating process has finally worked,” said Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, one of the Democrats who voted for TPA just two days after his party voted against the measure.

Passage was made more likely when Senate leadership allowed separate votes on a noncontroversial trade preference bill for Haiti and African nations and on a customs bill that includes provisions to counter foreign currency manipulation. Both measures passed earlier Thursday.

Several Midwestern Senate Democrats, including Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, voted to advance TPA. Other farm-state Democrats, including Al Franken of Minnesota and Debbie Stabenow, the ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, voted against it.

Earlier in the day, farm groups called on Congress to move ahead with fast-track legislation.

“For America’s farmers and ranchers to see continued export growth, we must pen deals that knock down trade barriers,” said California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger at a press conference organized by American Farm Bureau Federation. 

“The U.S. has not completed a new trade agreement since 2011. Farmers and ranchers need TPA now to complete important trade negotiations and open new markets around the world,” Farm Bureau said in a statement. “Congress and the administration must work together to shape and set priorities based on actual business conditions. With TPA, Congress provides valuable oversight to the trade agreement process while the administration represents our priorities before other countries.” 

American Soybean Association First Vice President Richard Wilkins left his farm in Greenwood, Delaware, to push for TPA on Capitol Hill.

“We can’t conclude agreements expeditiously without Trade Promotion Authority. In the immediate-term, this means the Trans-Pacific Partnership with our partners along the Pacific Rim. In the future, it means agreements with Europe and a broad range of new partners,” Wilkins said in a statement from ASA.

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