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Van Hollen opposes 'fast track' on trade

Rep. Chris Van Hollen
Rep. Chris Van Hollen

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat who is running for the Senate, said Tuesday he will oppose legislation to give the president greater authority to negotiate international trade agreements -- an issue that has split Democrats on Capitol Hill.

In a letter to Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee, Van Hollen raised concerns about the lack of enforceable provisions surrounding labor rights and currency manipulation, among other things.

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"I am also concerned that this agreement threatens worker rights," Van Hollen wrote.

"I have not been convinced that countries such as Vietnam, which is controlled by a one-party government, will implement labor provisions that support freedom of association and collective bargaining," he said.

Details of the fast-track legislation are not yet known, though observers believe proposed legislation will be unveiled as soon as this week. President Barack Obama is seeking an up-or-down vote in Congress, without amendments, for trade deals. That authority is considered particularly important for a pending agreement with Pacific Rim nations.

Van Hollen's early opposition is significant not only because he is a high-ranking Democrat in the House but also because it may have implications for his Senate campaign in Maryland. Labor groups have widely opposed the "fast tracking" of trade deals, creating a rift among Democrats.

Rep. Donna F. Edwards, the Prince George's County Democrat who is also running to replace the retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulksi, has also previously raised concerns at the White House about the Pacific trade agreement.

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