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Schnitzer Steel CEO says trade treaty critical for Oregon

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Lundgren defends fast track,TPP at Alliance meeting


Two weeks after President Obama visited Nike to pitch his new international trade treaty, the Portland area once again is at the center of the raging national debate about whether such deals help or hurt the American economy.

Obama spoke May 8 at the Nike campus in favor of so-called fast track trade legislation being considered by Congress. The legislation, co-sponsored by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, must pass for the U.S. Senate to vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty being negotiated by the White House with 11 Asian nations.

However, on Monday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka denounced the TPP at a press conference about 10 miles from the Nike campus. He said it would reduce American jobs. Trumka also criticized the fast-track legislation, which would require a relatively quick up or down vote on new treaties in the Senate with no amendments.

Then the next morning, Trumka’s business counterpoint, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Chair Tamara Lundgren, defended fast-track and the TPP before the Portland Business Alliance. Lundgen, who is also president and CEO of Portland-based Schnitzer Steel, was the keynote speaker at the organization’s annual meeting.

“Oregon is one of the most trade-dependent states in the country. Roughly half a million jobs in Oregon are dependent on international trade,” said Lundgren, who described new trade treaties like the TPP as essential for keeping America globally competitive.

The local events show that Oregon and the Portland region are playing outsized roles in the drama unfolding in Washington, D.C. Wyden’s co-sponsorship of fast track — officially known as Trade Promotion Authority — gave it bipartisan credibility because the other two sponsors are Republicans.

But Wyden and almost all other Democrats in the Senate voted against allowing debate to begin on the legislation last week because the version favored by Republicans did not include enforcement provisions they wanted. After handing Obama a very public defeat, Wyden and most other Democrats quickly reached a compromise with Senate Republicans that let debate start this week.

Trumka and Lundgren showed how polarized the situation has become in Washington, D.C. Trumka personally criticized the Democratic members of the Oregon congressional delegation who are supporting fast track. In addition to Wyden, they are 1st District Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, 3rd District Congressman Earl Blumeanuer and 5th District Congressman Kurt Schrader. In contrast, Lundgren personally praised them for supporting fast track, along with Republican Second District Congressman Greg Walden, who is also supporting it.

If fast track passes the Senate, the battle will then move to the U.S. House, where some progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans have already spoken out against it. They include Democratic Fifth District Congressman Peter DeFazio, who has been urged to run against Wyden in the 2016 primary election by some fast track opponents. DeFazio has ruled out such a challenge.

Ironically, Lundgren said she and Trumka appeared together at a Washington, D.C., press conference last week to urge Congress to approve more federal funds for infrastructure projects — a top priority for both business and labor.

“There’s no space between us on that,” Lundgren said.

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