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Senator McConnell urges new trade authority for Obama

McConnell listens to questions from reporters about the Senate's passage of debt ceiling legislation in Washington
McConnell listens to questions from reporters about the Senate's passage of debt ceiling legislation in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday he would offer an amendment to give President Barack Obama a grant of "trade promotion authority" to negotiate new trade deals.

"In order to create the kind of jobs we need, we'll need more trade deals than this," McConnell said, referring to the long-delayed trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama negotiated under former President George W. Bush.

"And that's why I've been a strong advocate for granting this president the same trade promotion authority that every other president has enjoyed since 1974," he said.

Obama has not asked for trade promotion authority, also known as "fast track," which would allow him to negotiate trade deals that he can submit to Congress for a straight up-or-down votes, without any amendments.

But administration officials acknowledge they will eventually need the legislation to win approval of a proposed Transpacific regional free-trade deal the United States is negotiating with eight other countries.

McConnell plans to offer his amendment during debate this week on a bill to renew two expired trade programs.

One, the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), waives duties on thousands of goods from developing countries. The other, Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), provides income and retraining assistance for workers who have lost their job because of foreign competition.

Senate approval of the GSP-TAA bill is expected to pave the way for Obama to submit the South Korea, Colombia and Panama agreements to Congress for approval.

McConnell criticized Obama for insisting TAA be approved before submitting the trade deals.

"Still, I and others have agreed to allow it so we can finally move ahead on these vital trade deals."

"And it's my expectation, based on the understanding that I have with the administration, that the president will stop dragging his feet and soon submit all three of them for a quick approval," McConnell said.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Philip Barbara)

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