President Barack obama

Democratic Party Lawmakers Voice Concern on Pacific Trade Pact

A letter signed by a majority of first-term Democrats in the House of Representatives said that talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Obama has billed as a signature priority, have progressed in 'extreme secrecy.'

WASHINGTON - Lawmakers from President Barack Obama's Democratic Party voiced alarm Tuesday over a proposed trans-Pacific trade pact, saying negotiations were too secretive and could lead to U.S. job losses.

A letter signed by a majority of first-term Democrats in the House of Representatives said that talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Obama has billed as a signature priority, have progressed in "extreme secrecy."

The lawmakers vowed to resist efforts to give Obama "fast-track" trade promotion authority -- which would let his team negotiate a deal, with Congress then voting up or down without the opportunity to make changes.

"Congress needs to work together to get American trade policy back on track -- not give away its authority to do so," said the letter spearheaded by Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin.

"Reducing our authority to ensure our trade agreements serve the public interest will undermine our efforts to create American jobs and to reform a misguided trade policy that has devastated our manufacturing base through the offshoring of American production and American jobs," the letter said.

Lawmakers from the Republican Party have sought a renewal of fast-track authority, which ended in 2007, as a way to speed up work on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements.

Obama has not formally sought fast-track authority from Congress, but his nominee to be U.S. Trade Representative, Mike Froman, told his confirmation hearing that the administration supported the step.

Froman Likely to Get Senate Confirmation

The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday easily approved Froman, now Obama's deputy national security adviser for international economics, to his new role, meaning that his confirmation by the full Senate is virtually assured.

Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat who heads the committee and a supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, called on the Senate to approve Froman quickly so he can "hit the ground running" on an "ambitious trade agenda."

The Trans-Pacific Partnership talks include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam, with Japan virtually certain to join negotiations this year.

Obama has billed the pact -- which would cover 40% of the world economy -- as a "21st-century" type of trade deal that would ensure labor and environmental standards while creating U.S. jobs by opening up markets within the dynamic Asia-Pacific region.

Obama discussed negotiations during a White House meeting Tuesday with Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, after similar talks last week with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.

"For both the United States and Peru, growth is also dependent on our continued expansion in the global marketplace," Obama said.

The trade agreement has become part of Obama's so-called "pivot" strategy of boosting the U.S. presence in Asia, in part by establishing rules and standards in a region marked by the rise of China -- which is not in the negotiations.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has also generated controversy in other nations including Japan, whose powerful farm lobby charges that foreign competition would destroy the traditionally protected sector.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013

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