The Senate approved Trade Promotion Authority by a strong vote of 66-30. The next step for the bill will be a House-Senate conference committee for negotiations on a final compromise.

The bill, which was President Bush’s top trade priority, would require up-or-down, no-amendments-allowed voted on future trade pacts. Most farm groups support TPA, which they see as critical to opening foreign markets. If given final approval later in the year, the new negotiating authority could give impetus to multi-nation trade liberalization talks that began in Doha, Qatar, last year.

“TPA is a critical tool in prying open international markets for U.S. farm and food products and the U.S. food and agriculture community has been one of the staunchest supporters of this legislation,” says USDA Secretary Ann Veneman. “We are thankful for its continued efforts toward passage of this important legislation.”

Among the tough issues in conference is an amendment championed by Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) and Sen. Mark Dayton (D-MN) that seeks to prevent U.S. concessions on trade protection laws. The amendment is widely expected to be dropped in conference, and the White House has made an explicit veto threat if it is retained.

But many House Democrats support the amendment, which is not in the House bill. Since that bill passed by only one vote, a delicate balancing act awaits in the conference committee that will produced final legislation, which will need to be re-approved in both the House and the Senate.