Senate clears debate path for TPA

Trade Promotion Authority bill prepares for full Senate debate ahead of its Memorial Day recess.

Thursday the Senate was able to clear a major hurdle to move forward on debate for a bill granting the president fast-track authority for trade negotiations. Earlier in the week Democrats had held the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill hostage, saying they wanted votes on other key legislative components including a bill that would help curb currency manipulation.

Thursday the motion to proceed to full debate of the bill passed 65 to 33. Tuesday the vote failed to reach the 60 margin threshold divided among party lines at 52 to 45.

Ahead of the vote, top agricultural Senate Republicans held a press conference with commodity group leaders highlighting the need for TPA passage. Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), who serves on both the Senate Finance Committee and Senate Agriculture Committee, said before Tuesday’s fallout, it was hoped the Senate could wrap up debate before heading home for the Memorial Day recess next week.

He said the Senate may not get through the entire amendment process ahead of the recess, despite how many had hoped “to put this one up on the scoreboard before Memorial Day.” He said it will depend entirely on the amendment process and how length and exhaustive it becomes.

Dave Salmonsen, American Farm Bureau Federation senior director of congressional relations, said usually a lot of amendments are offered but eventually are withdrawn and not even put on the floor. He expressed optimism that if handled properly, the Senate could still advance the bill ahead of recessing.

Salmonsen said 65 votes in favor of TPA is a good strong number. He’s worked with Congress the last four times on getting TPA approved and passage in itself is enough likely. Huge margins don’t always make a big difference.

Thune said that the House remains where it’s likely to see the tougher passage battle on trade matters, saying it was a “heavier lift” to change the way of thinking for many. He did say the bigger vote coming out of the Senate, the more momentum created as the bill heads to the house.

Thune shared that of the 260 preferential trade agreements, the United States is only party to 20 of them.  Agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership can be a huge market access win for U.S. agriculture especially, he said.  

California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger said U.S. ag exports are on pace to drop by $9 billion this year. “If we do not meet the demand, someone else will. We need to step up and empower the president,” Wenger said.

American Soybean Association (ASA) first vice president Richard Wilkins also reiterated the need for increased trading opportunities. Soybeans and soy products are the most valuable U.S. agricultural export, with 2014 exports of roughly $30.5 billion in soybeans, soybean meal and soybean oil. Between 2000 and 2010, the value of U.S. oilseed and product exports more than doubled, from $9 billion to over $20 billion. “It’s clear our industry’s growth is tied to export access. Absence of trade agreements it puts that growth in serious jeopardy,” he said.

The American Feed Industry Assn. said its board of directors was on Capitol Hill during the week too to express the importance of TPA to the feed industry. “"Pending trade pacts, including the TransPacific Partnership, provide incredible growth possibilities through direct feed and ingredient exports, as well as increased exports of U.S. livestock, poultry and dairy products,” said AFIA president and chief executive officer Joel Newman. Without passage of TPA, U.S. negotiators will continue to lack the ability and leverage needed when negotiating free trade agreements. n

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