September 10, 2014 / 1:45 PM / 5 years ago

U.S. groups leery of fast-track trade deals demand transparency

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 500 U.S. organizations on Wednesday urged the Obama administration to ditch the system of congressional authority to fast-track trade negotiations, demanding a more transparent method of handling trade negotiations.

In a letter to U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, the organizations said that Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, was outdated and undercuts congressional and public oversight.

The groups, led by the Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, the Communications Workers of America, the Citizens Trade Campaign, and Public Citizen, said TPA should be replaced with a new system that gives both Congress and the public a louder voice in trade negotiations.

“Fast track is the wrong track for Americans who care about the health of our families and access to clean air, clean water, and land,” Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement. “We need a new model of trade - one that protects communities and the environment while keeping the public engaged in the policy-making process.”

Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, has been working on a potential TPA bill during the summer. It is unclear when his bill will be presented.

The Obama administration wants Congress to quickly pass TPA as it attempts to complete two huge sweeping deals - the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 other Pacific Rim countries, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union.

TPA, which expired in 2007, would prevent Congress from amending trade deals. The White House was hoping to use it to coax its negotiating partners to put their best offers on the table. Without that assurance, other countries could be less willing to sign deals.

Critics of the fast-track authority, including several lawmakers, say it strips Congress of its constitutional right to oversee trade negotiations, undercuts transparency and fails to protect local workers.

They want a new method that allows Congress to have a say in selecting trade partners based on countries’ labor, environment and human rights records. They also want Congress to be able to set mandatory negotiating objectives and for the public to have a voice in trade negotiations.

“There is no ‘acceptable’ version of fast track,” said Public Citizen president Robert Weissman. “Fast-track must be replaced so Congress can steer international trade in a new direction and create agreements that actually work for most Americans.”

Reporting by Elvina Nawaguna, editing by Ros Krasny and Chizu Nomiyama

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