Top congressional Republicans and Democrats on Thursday said they've reached a deal to allow President Barack Obama to negotiate trade agreements subject to an up-or-down vote from Congress.
The "fast-track" legislation comes as Obama seeks a sweeping trade agreement with 11 Pacific nations. It would renew presidential authority to present trade agreements that Congress can endorse or reject, but not amend.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) proposes a trade agreement involving the United States, Japan, Vietnam, Canada, Mexico and seven other Pacific-rim nations.
"It's important for America, it's important for the world that we get this done," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
The deal between Hatch and the committee's top Democrat, Ron Wyden of Oregon, is no guarantee trade legislation will pass Congress. Many Democrats, particularly those identified closely with organized labor, are still opposed.
"You can't fast track fast track — that's a complete abdication of our responsibilities," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
Liberal opponents of TPP cite the nation's experience with prior trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which the labor federation AFL-CIO says cost the United States hundreds of thousands of jobs. Others are concerned about what they see as the excessive secrecy around the negotiation process and the hints that it might allow signatory states to challenge the laws of other countries in an international court.
A Thursday statement from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka urged Congress to reject the fast-track proposal.
"At a time when workers all over the country are standing up for higher wages, Congress is considering legislation that will speed through corporate-driven trade deals," said Trumka. "For decades, we’ve seen how fast-tracked trade deals devastated our communities through lost jobs and eroded public services. We can’t afford another bad deal that lowers wages and outsources jobs."
Wyden said opponents of trade agreements had valid arguments, but urged Democratic colleagues to consider the legislation carefully.
Al Jazeera and wire services