Obama administration asks Congress for enhanced trade-deal authority

A senior Democratic senator's complaints Tuesday, and noisy protesters, underscored the Obama administration's challenge in seeking congressional approval for enhanced powers to cut trade deals with Japan, India and many other countries.

Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said he worries that new trade deals will not help middle class incomes. He also said the United States must do more to prevent China from keeping its currency's value artificially low, which enhances Chinese exports and dampens imports.

Schumer addressed his remarks to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, who made the administration's pitch to the Senate Finance Committee.

Froman said Congress must return "trade promotion authority" to the White House in order to cut important trade deals with Pacific-rim nations and others. That power, sometimes called "fast-track" authority, allows presidents to send proposed trade agreements to Congress for yes or no votes, with no amendments.

Congress has sometimes granted such powers before. But many Democrats, liberals and labor unions have grown increasingly hostile to trade deals, saying they reduce U.S. jobs.

Several anti-trade protesters interrupted Froman's opening remarks, and were ushered out by police. Some mentioned the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which many labor groups disdain.

Froman said his negotiating team is pushing India and other countries to include greater safeguards for workers and the environment as they seek new trade agreements with the United States.

President Obama, in his State of the Union speech, said he needs enhanced negotiating authority to cut a new trade deal with Japan and 10 other Pacific nations, before moving to other possible pacts.

China is not part of the pending Pacific-rim deal. But Froman said his team is pushing China on several issues, "including protection and enforcement of trade secrets and other intellectual property rights."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, urged his colleagues to approve trade promotion authority. "Simply put, trade means jobs," Hatch said.

Several lawmakers predict the Senate will support TPA, with overwhelming Republican support and a fair number of Democrats.

Prospects in the House are less certain. A big majority of House Democrats oppose new trade deals, and some Republicans appear increasingly dubious.

Froman was scheduled to address the House Ways and Means Committee later Tuesday.