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Serving: United States

Trade path still uphill battle

Senate garners the needed votes to proceed to debate for TPA fast track authority ahead of Memorial Day recess.

By failing to reauthorize Trade Promotion Authority, American producers are missing out on being able to sell to 96% of consumers who live outside of the United States. Nowhere is this more important than in the area of agriculture. Of the total 260 preferential trade agreements, the United States is only part to 20 of them.  The hope is that agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership can be a huge market access win for U.S. agriculture.

This was the message from Sen. John Thune, R.-S.D., as he stood with fellow Republican trade supporters, just hours before the Senate was able to overcome an earlier failed vote by garnering 65 votes (over the needed 60 threshold) to move forward on debating legislation that grants the president fast-track authority.

But the road ahead is no easy task.

Thune and others had shared the hope was for the Senate to accomplish passage on the Senate floor ahead of Memorial Day recess. Senators are scheduled to be back in their districts from May 25 to May 29. And Thune said many had hoped “to put this one up on the scoreboard before Memorial Day.”

Thune conceded it may be more difficult now to wrap up debate on the bill in just a week. He said it will depend entirely on the amendment process and how lengthy and exhaustive it becomes.

Dave Salmonsen, American Farm Bureau Federation senior director of congressional relations, said usually numerous amendments are offered but eventually are withdrawn and not even put on the floor. He expressed optimism that if handled properly, the Senate could still advance the bill ahead of recessing.

The Senate was expected to be the easier of the two chambers to advance trade legislation. With every member representing varying constituencies, it tends to be the more balanced chamber. Thune said the House will be the “heavier lift” in finding the votes to pass TPA.

Ben Mosely, USA Rice's vice president of government affairs, noted the fate of TPA legislation is far from over as he expects there will be vigorous debate and an open amendment process which began Thursday night. "Even if the Senate passes the TPA bill, the measure will need to pass the House where they may be as many as 20 votes short of passage."

California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger said U.S. ag exports are on pace to drop by $9 billion this year. “If we do not meet the demand, someone else will. We need to step up and empower the president,” Wenger said.

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