Business Groups Win After Senate Passes Fast-Track Trade Bill

Jun 25, 2015
Originally published on July 1, 2015 1:49 pm
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The business community won a big victory yesterday. Congress gave the president authority to more easily negotiate a trade deal with countries that encircle the Pacific Ocean. It's known as fast-track authority. Labor unions and environmental groups opposed giving Obama that authority. They argued that a deal would allow companies to shift jobs overseas and also get around regulations. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports on the arguments that businesses say won a long and complicated fight.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: John Engler is president of the Business Roundtable, which represents more than 200 member companies who took to Capitol Hill armed with data.

JOHN ENGLER: We actually produced a congressional district-by-district analysis of the impact of trade and the potential impact of a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

NOGUCHI: Fast-track approval gives the president the authority to negotiate a deal with 11 Pacific Rim countries. With that Congress gives up the right to change the content of the deal, but retains the right to an up or down vote. Engler says many newer members of Congress are simply new to free-trade agreements.

ENGLER: You didn't have a lot of people who said I'm opposed and now I'm for it. We had a lot of people who didn't know.

NOGUCHI: At the National Retail Federation, vice president Jonathan Gold says his members embarked on similar phone and email campaigns, mostly focusing on jobs. Gold says 7 million retail jobs are directly or indirectly tied to trade.

JONATHAN GOLD: Everything from logistics to customs to finance to design, store operations.

NOGUCHI: Labor and environmental groups criticized the fast-track deal, calling it worse than the North American Free Trade Agreement passed two decades ago.

LINDA DEMPSEY: The critics are just wrong.

NOGUCHI: That's Linda Dempsey, a vice president for the National Association of Manufacturers. Her members lobbied Congress saying, actually, hiring increased in the years immediately following NAFTA.

DEMPSEY: NAFTA has actually made U.S. manufacturing overall much stronger and much more competitive.

NOGUCHI: But after an initial bump following NAFTA, manufacturing employment declined. House leaders promise to take up a separate bill to fund retraining workers later today. The administration must now finalize terms of a trade deal, which could come before Congress for a vote by the end of the year. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.