The U.S. House of Representatives voted against a measure last Friday that would permit the president to "fast track" trade legislation. The measure is called Trade Promotion Authority.
The bill would have required Congress only to vote for or against trade legislation without the ability to amend the agreement. The vote was a setback for President Barack Obama. He said the failure to pass the bill would directly hurt 100,000 American jobs.
Although a new vote could take place as early as Friday, Republican leaders in the House are seeking to delay the vote until July.
Trade Promotion Authority seen as important to free-trade deal
Trade Promotion Authority is considered an important step toward approval of a free trade agreement for the Asia-Pacific area. Approval of Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, is considered extremely important to passage of a new Asia free-trade accord. Many countries in the area are watching what is happening in Washington closely.
On Monday, Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs, K. Shanmugam, warned that the United States faces, in his words, a ‘stark choice' over its future in the Asia-Pacific region.
Mr. Shanmugam spoke to the Washington-based Centers for Strategic and International Studies. He says it is very important to complete the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade agreement that have lasted for years. He adds most of this century's economic growth will come from Asia:
"Everyone knows China. But there are other parts of the story, India, Southeast Asia. ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), the 10 countries of ASEAN together are the seventh largest economy in the world, something that not a lot of people realize -- two-point-four trillion dollars today but, within five years, it will be four-trillion (dollars)."
Mr. Shanmugam says the Asia-Pacific region needs development of air and seaports, railways, roads and other infrastructure. The region needs industries such as energy and information technology.
Difficult choices on trade
The foreign minister says the United States faces a choice:
"In all of this, where is the United States? It's been the guarantor of peace; it's been the guarantor of progress and prosperity up to now. If you don't do this deal, what are your levers of power?"
Singapore expert Michael Barr is with Australia's Flinders University School of International Studies. He says the perception of political lack of action and rising economic nationalism in Washington concerns America's traditional Asian allies. He says they would be unwilling to reach agreement on TPP without fast-track authority because it means Congress could amend the agreement.
"Singaporeans in particular, it's not just them, are very concerned with managing the rise of China, and Singapore knows that they have extremely limited capacity to do anything themselves about managing the rise of China. All they can do is manage their response to it, and they really look to the Americans."
Michael Barr says countries are concerned about losing faith in America. He says the real worry in Asia is that the Americans will show themselves unable to doing anything effective, even something minimal like signing a free trade agreement.
U.S. House Republican leaders say they need more time to build Congressional support for Trade Promotion Authority. An agreement will have to have support from both parties. A measure approved by the Senate for job retraining funding called Trade Adjustment Assistance was among the measures defeated Friday. Few Democrats supported the measure.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday the longer the process takes, the harder it will be to build bipartisan support.
The president faces opposition from his own Democratic Party over fast-track authority. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have questioned the legislation.
I'm Mario Ritter.