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Senate To Vote on Trade Promotion Authority

The Senate voted 60 to 37 June 23 to invoke cloture (60 votes were needed) and allow a vote as early as tomorrow on a House-passed Trade Promotion Authority bill supported by TV and movie studios, consumer electronics companies, ISPs and others. A cloture vote ends debate and allows for a vote on the underlying bill.

The bill, the trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (H.R. 2146 ), outlines the negotiating objectives that any administration has to 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. It also deals with cyber theft, 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 is now voting on a different version.

TV and movie producers represented by the Motion Picture Association of America have been strongly in favor of the bill, which also grants the President "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, MPAA has said, including creating what it calls "strong standards for the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights for the 21st century."

"Final passage of TPA is critical for extending our nation’s global competiveness and supporting more American jobs, including those in the motion picture and television industry," said Motion Picture Association of America President Sen. Chris Dodd. "We encourage the Senate to again vote in favor of economic growth and the U.S. trade agenda tomorrow.”

"We applaud the Senate for deciding to proceed with TPA legislation and look forward to the bill’s successful passage as soon as tomorrow," said Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro. "A vote in favor of TPA means support for American innovation and the thousands of businesses that export products. 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," said SIIA VP Mark MacCarthy. "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."

“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," said the National Retail Federation.

Not everyone was celebrating TPA's progress.

Fight for the Future director Holmes Wilson said: “Today, the Senate chose to completely ignore the public and advance Fast Track anyway. People from across the political spectrum spoke out in overwhelming numbers against Fast Track because they know that when the government acts in secret, with only corporate lobbyists to advise them, the results are always terrible.”

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.