SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch played a key role in advancing President Barack Obama's international trade agenda that could boost exports and create new jobs for Utah businesses.
The Senate voted this week to approve trade promotion authority, allowing the White House to fast-track trade deals to Congress for up-or-down votes without amendments. The measure also removes the Senate's power to filibuster the proposals.
Hatch called the bill a victory for Utah, where one in five jobs rely on international trade.
"Utah has proven itself to be one of the best states in the country for business, and greater access to customers overseas is vital to our continued growth and economic success," he said.
Trade promotion authority will open more international markets for American farmers, ranchers and businesses, the senator said.
Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, wrote the bill along with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who heads the House Ways and Means Committee.
The bill provides people unprecedented transparency and a strong voice in establishing fair, responsible trade priorities that ensure that the economy continues to grow, Hatch said.
"It empowers Congress and the American people with a strong voice in international trade negotiations, maximizes dialogue among stakeholders, and helps secure high-standard trade pacts that will benefit American workers and job creators," he said.
Utah exported $12.3 billion worth of goods in 2014, a 24 percent decline from the previous year, according to World Trade Center Utah. About 374,000 Utah jobs depend on international trade and 86 percent of exporters are small- and medium-sized companies with fewer than 500 workers, according to Business Roundtable.
Metals, computer and electronic products, chemicals, foods and transportation equipment were the leading exports. Hong Kong, Canada, United Kingdom, China and Mexico were the top five destinations.
Utah business leaders praised Hatch for his work on the bill, which also had the support of Gov. Gary Herbert.
Derek Miller, president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah, said the U.S. will be able to enter into trade agreements that will lead to increased exports and international partnerships for decades to come.
"Back in Washington, Utah is leading on trade," said Nigel Steward, Rio Tinto Kennecott managing director.
Steward said the trade authority would lead to agreements that can tear down barriers to Utah exports, open new markets and help companies across the state find more opportunities to sell goods and services around the world.
The hotly debated bipartisan bill didn't come easily as most Democrats opposed the measure. Congressional Republican leaders pushed it through after weeks of wrangling.
Hatch said Washington had not acted on trade policy of this magnitude in nearly 15 years. It now goes the president's desk.
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