Business groups, including construction-equipment manufacturers, are supportive of the congressional passage of fast-track legislation giving the president broader authority in negotiating a major trade deal with 11 other countries in the Asian Pacific region.
But labor and environmental advocates worry that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has largely been negotiated in secret over the past five years, will enable corporations to cut corners or move jobs overseas, where labor and environmental safeguards may not be enforceable.
President Obama signed the bill, which was approved shortly before lawmakers left for the July 4 recess, on June 29. He also signed a bill extending funding for a program to ensure that workers who lose their jobs because of a trade agreement receive financial assistance, including funding for further education.
The fast-track bill has been controversial and pitted many lawmakers from the president’s own party against an odd alliance of some Republicans and President Obama. The legislation enables Congress to approve a trade pact such as the TPP with a simple up-or-down vote. The passage of the bill is seen as a significant victory for Obama.
Nick Yasich, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers’ vice president for government and industry relations, says that now that the president has been given fast-track authority, the trade negotiations might move at a quicker pace.
“I think it’s an important message to the rest of the world that we’re serious about negotiating,” he says. “Our trading partners know there is path forward now, at least to get before the Congress and have an up-or-down vote.”
But union and environmental advocates have been vocal in their opposition to fast-track and the trade deals being worked out. Roy Houseman, legislative representative for the United Steelworkers, says organized labor has “significant concerns” about the enforceability of labor protections, particularly in Vietnam and Mexico, as well as basic environmental standards.
Labor unions are also concerned that workers will lose jobs as corporations close down facilities to avoid more stringent environmental and labor laws, Houseman says.
Still, looking forward, “While we may have had a disagreement with the administration on fast-track trade authority, we are going to do everything in our power to engage to ensure that the trade partnership that comes forward is—as the president promises it will be—as progressive as possible,” Houseman says.
Yasich notes that AEM has union and non-union companies as members, and “there’s a sensitivity amongst those companies, but in the end the recognition has to be that we’re creating jobs” through the trade agreements.