Obama signs key trade Bill into law

Mr Barack Obama said debate on trade provisions will not end with the Bill signing.
Mr Barack Obama said debate on trade provisions will not end with the Bill signing.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

But tough talks still lie ahead, as 'fast-track' authority to negotiate treaties are a first step

One key trade battle may be over, but more lie ahead. Even as United States President Barack Obama signed a critical Bill into law on Monday, he made it clear that he was already steeling himself for more tough negotiations as he seeks to secure the country's largest trade deal.

Before signing the legislation that would grant him fast-track negotiation authority on trade, he stressed that the so-called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) was just a first step.

"The trade authorisation that's provided here is not the actual trade agreement. So we still have some tough negotiations that are going to be taking place," he said.

"And so, the debate on the particular provisions of trade will not end with this Bill signing.

"But I'm very confident that we're going to be able to say at the end of the day that the trade agreements that come under this authorisation are going to improve the system of trade that we have right now. And that's a good thing."

While the trade talks have been confidential, observers say negotiators for the landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are still working on stumbling blocks like agricultural tariffs in Japan and labour standards in Vietnam.

The TPA - which speeds up the congressional review process of any trade deal - was finally passed by both chambers of Congress last week, after months of bitter infighting, political manoeuvring and unprecedented personal lobbying by the President. During the law's journey through the US Congress, the President had to endure a revolt from within his own party.

He was dealt embarrassing blows twice - when the Democrats in the Senate and then in the House conspired to try and block the Bill.

The White House considers fast-track negotiation authority critical to the completion of the TPP and the US-European Union Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Without guarantees that the US legislature would not meddle with any agreement, experts agreed that the talks would have limped along.

Still, the close margins and intense battles made it clear that free trade remains a deeply divisive issue and Mr Obama's remarks on Monday struck the middle ground between being congratulatory and conciliatory. He devoted a significant chunk of his comments to reassuring American workers that free trade was good for the country.

"I would not be doing this, I would not be signing these Bills if I was not absolutely convinced that these pieces of legislation are ultimately good for American workers.

"I would not be signing them if I wasn't convinced they'd be good for American businesses.

"I would not be signing them if I did not know that they will give us a competitive edge in this new economy, and that that new economy cannot be reversed. We have to embrace it."

He added: "This legislation will help turn global trade - which can often be a race to the bottom - into a race to the top. It will reinforce America's leadership role in the world - in Asia and in Europe and beyond. If I didn't believe it, I wouldn't have fought so hard to get these things done."

Monday's signing was also hailed by Republican leaders as a sign that the Washington gridlock is beginning to ease. House Speaker John Boehner said: "This Bill is a big win for American jobs and leadership, and I hope the President will continue to work with us to get more bipartisan, House-passed jobs Bills signed into law."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2015, with the headline 'Obama signs key trade Bill into law'. Print Edition | Subscribe