Hearing looks to tame TPA concerns

Senate Finance Committee prepares for markup of Trade Promotion Authority bill.

The Senate Finance Committee held its third session in a matter of days to discuss the newly brokered Trade Promotion Authority bill introduced April 16 as well as accompanying trade policy. The latest session was the last one ahead of a planned Wednesday mark up in the committee and featured testimony from the heads of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO.

Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) started off the hearing by trying to ease criticisms that the bill being debated hasn’t had adequate time for discussions, saying the concerns were “unfounded.” He said the current bill introduced has many similar provisions to the one first introduced in January 2014 and thousands of organizations have weighed in on the merits of that bill.

“The fundamentals remain the same and we’ve been transparent on what changes have been,” he said. In addition, the last Congress had nine hearings which had questions on trade and Trade Promotion Authority discussed.

Thomas Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, explained that the 20 regions and countries the United States currently has trade agreements with represent a mere 6% of the world’s population, but buy nearly half of American’s exports. He also said when new trade agreements come into effect they have an annual average growth rate of 18% of the first five year period following an agreement coming into force.

Donohue said for American farmers and ranchers the stakes are particularly high as foreign markets place the highest tariffs on their agricultural products. “Agricultural exports have soared under new trade agreements,” he added.

Richard Trumka, president of AFL-CIO, shared the labor movement has been advocating for new trade policy for the last two decades. He challenged that offering Trade Promotion Authority to the president now allows Congress any say in the current Trans Pacific Partnership which has been negotiated for the past five years.

“This is the worst possible time to pass fast track for TPP. Any leverage you have left for those issues remaining you give away,” Trumka said.

Trumka said TPP may well be the last trade agreement that gets negotiated as new countries can actually join once the current 12 nation bloc approves it.

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