IT has been more than six months in the making, but Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) and ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) finally brokered a deal on a trade promotion authority (TPA) bill that offers fast-track authority to the President when negotiating trade deals.
Members of the Democratic Party, however, wanted to back the train up on the committee's attempt to "fast track" the bill through Congress without time to adequately evaluate the bill itself.
No doubt, the timeline ahead is quite ambitious. Hatch said he intends to hold a markup of the bill April 23 and debate it on the floor before the end of the month.
Wyden told his fellow Democrats that he looks forward to talking about the bill more extensively over the next week and feels there will be more talk about it for "weeks after that."
Wyden also supports advancing trade adjustment assistance (TAA), and although it may not be included within the TPA bill, it will go on "parallel tracks." He said, "TPA and TAA must make it to the President's desk for a signature so one can't be enacted without the other."
Wyden said through many "spirited discussions," the leaders were able to agree to include provisions that allow Congress to "put the brakes on a bad deal" and set up a process that would give the committee the possibility to turn off fast track just as it is turned on.
Crucial for ag
During a committee hearing on trade policy, Wyden asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack how the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations would live up to the promises where other trade agreements have fallen short.
Vilsack said the only way to get agriculture industry support for a final TPP deal is to provide increased market access. While exports coming into the U.S. face an average tariff of 1.4%, the U.S. is at a significant disadvantage when it faces disproportionately high tariffs elsewhere.
For instance, poultry producers face a 240% tariff in Japan. Beef producers face tariffs as high as 50% in some TPP countries.
Beyond cutting tariffs, the TPP agreement will include strong sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) provisions that will improve transparency and scientific decision-making to provide expanded access for U.S. products such as meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, Vilsack testified.
Vilsack confidently said if TPP reduces tariffs and SPS barriers are either not constructed or torn down more quickly, agricultural exports will benefit significantly.
The U.S. is coming off a record year of $152 billion in agricultural exports. Many agricultural groups contend that TPA will help keep that trend moving forward.
Hatch said the Senate has a unique opportunity to move forward on possibly one of the only pieces of policy that could find support in Congress and the executive branch.
U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman reiterated that TPA allows the "U.S. to speak with one voice" as it shows that administrators and legislators can work together to pursue negotiating objectives.