Senate to Vote on Trade Promotion Authority

Bill Would Make It Clear Digital Goods Get Trade Protections

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate voted 60 to 37 Tuesday (June 23) to invoke cloture and allow a vote as early as tomorrow on a House-passed Trade Promotion Authority bill supported by TV and move studios, consumer electronics companies, Internet-service providers and others.

The bill (which 60 needed votes for cloture), the trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (H.R. 2146), outlines the negotiating objectives that any administration must follow in conducting trade talks, and requires Congress and the public to have access to information on trade deals before they are struck. The bill makes Congress a partner in trade agreements.

The measure also deals with cybertheft, trade secrets and intellectual property protection. The last is particularly important to content providers.

The bill would, among other things, make it clear that trade protections include digital as well as physical goods.

The House passed the bill last week, and the Senate passed a version of TPA last month, but the upper chamber is now voting on a different version (it's complicated).

TV and movie producers represented by the Motion Picture Association of America have been strongly in favor of the bill, which also grants President Obama "fast track" authority to negotiate bills, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership bill, which MPAA also supports.

TPP would expand trade and access to creative content to much of the Asia-Pacific region, the MPAA has said, including creating what it calls "strong standards for the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights for the 21st century."

Consumer Electronics Association president and CEO Gary Shapiro also applauded the bill’s passage. "A vote in favor of TPA means support for American innovation and the thousands of businesses that export products,” Shapiro said in a statement. “We now call on the Senate to pass TPA and give our presidents the ability to negotiate critical trade agreements that drive sustained economic growth and strengthen our position in the global marketplace.”

The Software and Information Industry Association — whose goods are mostly digital, not physical — was understandably pleased.

“It’s been a bumpy road through Congress for TPA, but with support from a key group of Senate Democrats, the legislation now has a clear path forward," SIIA vice president Mark MacCarthy said. "As we reiterated in reaching out to these Democrats, TPA will create more opportunities for U.S. businesses and help deliver crucial provisions for the digital economy. 

“Importantly, the bill makes it the official U.S. negotiating position that governments must not impede digital trade, restrict data flows, or require local storage or processing of data," McCarthy added.

“This is more than just another routine procedural vote – this is a necessary step toward ensuring a free and open global economy where trade barriers are a thing of the past," the National Retail Federation said.