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US Senate approves fast-track Obama trade bill

In a major policy victory for US President Barack Obama, the Senate has granted him authority to close a Pacific trade bill. Opposition from members of his own Democratic party forced Obama to rely on Republican support.

The White House and Republican leaders secured the necessary votes to approve the Trans-Pacific accord (TPA) on Wednesday, with the Senate voting 60 to 38. The bill will now go to Obama for his signature.

Obama's top economic priority of his second term aims to strengthen US ties with Asia and open new markets for US exports in countries such as Australia, Japan, Vietnam and Chile.

Under the new legislation, the US president will have the power to negotiate trade deals and send them on a fast track to Congress.

Sentate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hailed the passing of the bill on Wednesday as a "win" for the US' middle class.

"Achieving this positive outcome was never going to be easy, but it proves that the power of a good idea, no matter where it comes from, can win out over the stasis of gridlock," McConnell said.

Opposing Democrats

Many of Obama's fellow Democrats rebelled against the bill amid concerns that the move would see the same outcome of the North American Free Trade Agreement of the 1990s. As a result, the US saw huge job losses in manufacturing after many were sent to Mexico where labor costs were significantly lower.

Several environmental groups and human rights organizations opposing the bill also warned that the accord could trigger a "race to the bottom" on wages and jeopardize environmental and rights standards.

The approval of Obama's TPA bill could see the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Parnership (TTIP) finally reach the finish line. The free trade agreement - the biggest of its kind in a generation - would cover 40 percent of the global economy and increase the world's annual economic output by almost $300 billion (268 billion euros).

ksb/bw (Reuters, AFP)