The Senate on Thursday approved a bill 70 to 27 that should clear the way for the Obama administration to send legislative language for three long-pending free trade agreements to Congress for approval.
The bill passed extends the generalized system of preferences (GSP) and provides assistance for U.S. workers who are hurt economically by trade agreements, known as trade adjustment assistance (TAA).
The Obama administration has required TAA approval before submission of the three agreements, with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, which were negotiated during the last Bush administration.
This position has been supported by some congressional Democrats but was a non-starter for many Congressional Republicans.
To overcome the impasse, lawmakers have worked out a complex but seemingly workable compromise, in which the House passed GSP; the Senate took up the House bill with a TAA amendment; and now the entire measure is set to be sent back to the House.
It is expected to meet approval there, but will not be enrolled – or made ready for the President Barack Obama’s signature – until the FTAs are in play, so both pieces will move simultaneously but not attached together.
Despite different priorities for trade policy and the compromise’s complexity, Senators seem willing to hew to it, giving hope it will soon lead to submission of the FTAs.
A vote early in the week on a motion to end debate on the GSP measure passed 82 to 8 vote, showing strong bipartisan support for established process. The body has also rejected amendments, including adding trade promotion authority to the bill, because that could have upset the delicate process.
It’s most likely the FTAs will be sent to the Hill sometime after returning from recess next week. Once on the Hill, Members will have 90 days to hold up-or-down votes on them.
The U.S. wheat industry is strongly supportive of all three FTAs, and particularly interested in quick movement on that with Colombia, where U.S. wheat has been losing market share to competitors who benefit from more favorable trade preferences.
More about the wheat industry’s work on trade is at www.wheatworld.org/trade.