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Trade agreements get bipartisan support

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KAI RYSSDAL: Bipartisanship’s been in short supply in Washington. But late yesterday the Democratic Speaker of the House and the Republican Secretary of the Treasury announced a deal on international trade.

It is the first step toward Congressional approval of trade agreements that have already been negotiated with four countries. Our Washington Bureau Chief John Dimsdale reports business, labor and environmental groups have been poring over the details all day.

JOHN DIMSDALE: With this deal, Republicans agree to minimum labor and environmental standards in trade agreements. In return, Democrats will sign off on lower trade barriers that have protected American industries and jobs from cheaper imports.

The negotiating team included the top two members on the House Ways & Means Committee — Democrat Charles Rangel of New York and Republican Jim McCrery of Louisiana. McCrery says it’s a significant breakthrough.

JIM MCCRERY: When the Democrats took over control of the House and Senate, I recognized that the trade agenda was in jeopardy, because Democrats had become fairly well united in opposing any trade deals, most because they really wanted these labor protections and environmental protections inside the free trade agreements.

Several business groups today said they were satisfied the compromise will allow those protections without giving unions the ability to use trade deals to change U.S. labor laws. But as details of the agreement became available, some of the capitol’s strongest labor advocates began raising questions. North Dakota Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan had a message for negotiators who’ve been celebrating their compromise.

BYRON DORGAN: Let me just say to them, there is another voice here in this Congress. A voice that will come from the United States Senate and there are some of us here that will insist that we stand up for the economic interests of this country.

And business support for the compromise is not unanimous. Some raise concerns the deal is a threat to U.S. environmental laws and would undermine patent protections on prescription drugs.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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