The trade promotion authority legislation, formerly known as “Fast Track,” would give the president authority to negotiate trade agreements with other countries and submit them to the Congress for an up-or-down vote.

House members approved the House-Senate conference report by a 215 to 212 vote early Saturday morning and sent the compromise measure on to the Senate. The original House version of the legislation passed by one vote last December.

The legislation has split normally unified ag organizations with mainline groups such as the American Farm Bureau and the National Corn Growers Association supporting and the National Farmers Union and the American Corn Growers opposing it. The National Cotton Council continues to have reservations about some of the bill’s provisions.

“This trade negotiation authority is needed now,” said Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman. “With negotiations well under way in the World Trade Organization, the United States cannot afford to delay TPA any longer.”

Stallman called the House vote a victory for U.S. farmers and ranchers. “Now we look to the Senate to pass the bill before adjourning for its August recess so that it can be signed into law soon.”

The Farm Bureau president’s comments were echoed by NCGA President Tim Hume, who thanked his members for their “grassroots efforts” to win passage for the bill in the House. He also sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, urging him to schedule a vote on the conference report this week.

National Farmers Union leaders, meanwhile, were asking senators to reject the measure.

“The legislation fails to address the major issues effecting U.S. agriculture’s international competitiveness, such as exchange rates, currency valuations and labor and environmental standards,” NFU President Dave Frederickson said.

He cited the administration’s recent World Trade Organization proposal for agriculture as an example of how TPA would be detrimental to domestic producers. “It could cut assistance provided in the recently passed farm bill, and it could weaken domestic trade remedy protections against the unfair trade practices of other countries.”

American Corn Growers Association officials said farmers’ experience with earlier trade agreements do not bode well for the expanded negotiating authority that TPA would give the present and future administrations.

“The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has devastated farmers from the wheat fields of Canada to the corn fields of Mexico and from the tomato patches of Florida to the milking parlors of California,” said Keith Dittrich, the ACGA’s president.

“And until we can accomplish a major overhaul of NAFTA to ensure that it is fair for farmers and farm workers and that it helps sustain family farms and the rural economy, ACGA will oppose the negotiation and ratification of the expansion of that trade agreement.”

Dittrich said trade agreements have forced American corn farmers to relinquish 68 percent of their buying power in their pursuit of “mythical increases in exports which were, in turn, promised to bring prosperity to rural America and lower food prices to America’s consumers.”

The NFU’s Frederickson also complained that the House-Senate conference committee dropped from the TPA report a Senate amendment designed to protect domestic trade remedy laws. It also weakened trade adjustment assistance language originally adopted by the Senate.

Frederickson was referring to the Dayton-Craig amendment, a provision in the earlier Senate bill that would have allowed senators to reject any part of a trade agreement that weakened U.S. anti-dumping laws. Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., one of its authors, said he would oppose the conference report.

Conferees reportedly agreed to a compromise provision that would provide financial assistance that would enable workers who lose their jobs due to new trade agreements to maintain health insurance coverage, but not the level of assistance in the original Senate bill.

Textile state senators continued to express reservations about the bill’s impact on jobs in their states.

A review of the legislation by the National Cotton Council said the House-Senate conference report generally would:

  • Increase regional fabric quotas beyond levels that were proposed by a coalition comprised of the NCC, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute and the American Yarn Spinners Association
  • Includes no U.S. yarn requirements
  • Weakens the textile negotiating language the coalition had recommended.
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    For more information on the NCC analysis of the bill, go to the Council’s Web site at www.cotton.org/membersvcs/policy/review-tpa.cfm.

    e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com