CONGRESS hasn't approved trade promotion authority (TPA) — otherwise known as fast-track approval — for the President to use within trade negotiations since 2007.
Trade supporters received a boost last Thursday when top bipartisan leaders from both the Senate and House jointly introduced legislation that lays out Congress' negotiating priorities to the Administration and trading partners.
The TPA legislation will restore the President's authority to negotiate trade deals that Congress can pass or reject but cannot amend, which is seen as crucial for final passage of pending negotiations, most notably the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The legislation aims to renew TPA for up to seven years.
Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus (D., Mont.) and ranking member Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), along with House Ways & Means Committee chair Dave Camp (R., Mich.), joined together to introduce the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014 (TPA-2014), which establishes 21st-century congressional negotiating objectives and rules for the Administration to follow when engaging in trade talks, including strict requirements for congressional consultations and access to information.
TPA-2014 updates labor and environmental provisions to reflect recent trade agreements, as well as market access priorities for goods and services. It strengthens oversight by Congress and the public by adding consultation and reporting requirements. Also, for the first time, TPA-2014 sets out a clear directive on currency manipulation — something that was being pushed by members on both sides of the aisle.
TPA-2014 also provides for tougher, enforceable rules against barriers to U.S. agriculture. Specifically, it's designed to strengthen rules for agriculture, including updated provisions that seek robust and enforceable rules on sanitary and phytosanitary measures and that address improper use of geographical indications.
"The TPA legislation that we are introducing will make sure that these trade deals get done and get done right. This is our opportunity to tell the Administration — and our trading partners — what Congress' negotiating priorities are," Baucus said.
Many recognize that without TPA, other countries are reluctant to finalize negotiations with the U.S. for fear that any hard-won trade agreement could be undone through amendments in Congress.
In a joint statement, Baucus, Hatch and Camp called TPA a "vital tool" as the U.S. continues TPP negotiations as well as free trade agreement talks with the European Union.
The two trade deals offer the U.S. landmark opportunities to boost exports. The TPP countries — which represent many of the fastest-growing economies in the world — accounted for 40% of total U.S. goods exported in 2012. In addition, the EU purchased close to $460 billion in U.S. goods and services that same year, supporting 2.4 million American jobs.
"This trade negotiation authority is needed now," American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman said. He added that for negotiations to keep moving forward on TPP and the EU deal, TPA needs to be in place.
"We urge Congress to pass the bill without delay and show that the United States is committed to completing these trade negotiations," Stallman said.
Nick Giordano, vice president and counsel for international affairs at the National Pork Producers Council, said there already has been tremendous communication between the House and Senate on TPA-2014, and the hope is that the bill will move expeditiously.
The USA Rice Federation noted that the fate of the legislation is unclear since Democrats in Congress, who control the Senate, are traditionally leery of TPA. Further complicating the issue is that Baucus announced his retirement from the Senate and has been tapped by President Barack Obama to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to China.
The likely incoming chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), has made it clear that he has strong thoughts on TPA and will want to be deeply involved in crafting final legislation.
Giordano added, though, that TPA is a procedural mechanism, while the real dollars and value opportunities come from a completed TPP agreement. The success of TPP lies in the hands of Japan — moving away from its position of refusing to eliminate tariffs of its domestic agricultural sector, Giordano added.
"There's never a perfect TPA bill or trade agreement," he said, but TPA allows Congress to be heard, ask questions once a finalized trade agreement is reached and then make the decision as to whether to support the agreement or not.