WASHINGTON – Vice President Biden on Friday acknowledged that Congress will not grant President Obama fast-track trade promotion authority, which analysts say is critical to the president’s hopes to forge huge trade deals with Asia and Europe.
Biden’s comments called into question the central pillars of the White House’s trade agenda, most immediately the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional trade pact involving 12 nations, which is the most visible element of Obama’s strategic shift toward Asia.
Responding to a question at a policy retreat for House Democratic leaders in Cambridge, Md., Biden said he knew it was not coming up now, according to people who were at the meeting.
And the vice president took a hard line on the United States’ main trading partners in the Pacific, telling Democrats that he informed the Japanese that the trans-Pacific partnership – a huge trade accord for the entire Pacific Rim – could not go forward if the U.S. auto industry continued to have only a 1 percent market penetration in Japan.
Most Democrats in both chambers of Congress oppose granting Obama fast-track authority, which is considered vital to obtaining trade concessions from foreign countries because it would bar amendments to those deals when they go before Congress for ratification.
Last month, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said he had no plans to schedule a vote on trade promotion authority. On Wednesday, the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, told reporters that giving Obama that authority was “out of the question.”
Democrats, as well as labor and environmental groups, worry that multilateral trade deals inevitably siphon off manufacturing jobs in the United States, and say these pacts do not do enough to protect the environment.