SOTU: Obama urges “fast track” to advance trade deals with Asia and Europe

World Today

In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, in Washington, President Obama urged Congress to approve “fast-track” trade authority which would give Obama the power to negotiate trade relations with Asian and European countries. (AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)

U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday night asked Congress to grant the administration “fast track” authority to negotiate and speed through far-reaching trade deals with Asia-Pacific and European countries.

“I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair,” said Obama in his State of the Union address to Congress.

The fast track, or trade promotion authority, empowers the president to negotiate trade deals and then present them to Congress for up-or-down votes, with no amendments allowed.

Without such authority, many trade analysts said, Obama’s hopes to enact trade deals before he leaves office will be doomed.

The Obama administration is engaged in two ambitious and difficult trade negotiations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with 28 members of the European Union, in a bid to “update the global trading system by creating a new set of rules for trade and investment.”

“I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense,” Obama argued.

“95 percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities,” he added, vowing to conclude the trade deals with Asia and Europe.

While trade is one of the few areas where Obama and the leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress agree, a coalition of Democratic lawmakers and activists from labor unions and environmental groups oppose granting Obama that authority, arguing that those trade deals have hurt U.S. workers and increased income inequality.

“We need the president to engage on this issue with his own party,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said last week.

It is still unclear whether the Obama administration could get enough votes to renew the trade promotion authority this year.

Report complied with information from Xinhua