Legislation that will potentially pave the way for a fast track vote on the long-awaited Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is edging forward after being passed by the US Senate on Friday (22 May).

The Trade Promotion Authority bill – included in the ‘Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015’ – passed by a majority of 62 to 37, and now heads to the House, where it is set to face opposition from Democrats and some Republicans. Action is likely to take many weeks and will face tough debate.

Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) will provide a "fast-tracking" procedure that requires Congress to either reject or ratify trade agreements – but not change them – within a 90-day timeframe.

The passage of TPA is seen as key to paving the way for the Obama Administration to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) being negotiated between the US and 11 countries including Vietnam, as well as moving forward on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union (EU).

Groups representing US apparel and footwear retailers and importers have welcomed the Senate’s move, and are now urging the House of Representatives to follow suit and pass the measures when it returns from recess next month.

Also part of the trade package due to be considered by the House in June is the ‘Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015’, which has been passed separately by the Senate. This includes extension of the Haiti HELP/HOPE programme, a ten-year renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and renewal and update of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) programme.

US Secretary of State John Kerry described the Senate passage of the TPA as "a major step that will enable our county complete the two most significant trade agreements in a generation. Those agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, are essential to America's economic security.

"They will open markets and level the playing field for American businesses and workers by creating higher standards abroad. They will promote prosperity and security at home and abroad by deepening partnerships with our closest allies."

But many Democrats fear the bill would lead to American jobs moving overseas – a view endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the largest US trade union federation. "Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority is not the way to ensure that the American public receives full and thorough debate on the vast implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership," it said in a statement last week.