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Congress Needs to Prioritize TPA Passage

Today, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will address the 114th Congress regarding the necessity of passing Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) as a predicate for completion of the ambitious U.S. trade agenda. TPA allows the President to “fast-track” trade agreements for approval or disapproval by Congress; essentially, TPA asks the House and Senate to accept or reject a trade agreement, without amendment, within 90 days of its submission to Congress by the President. The process enables the United States to negotiate more beneficial trade agreements with other countries, in part because of the reduction in approval time compared to other pieces of legislation (that often languish in committee markup) and because it incentivizes foreign countries to make good faith trade negotiations with the United States, since they know that Congress cannot rewrite the deal.

Presidents need fast-track negotiating authority because the simple reality is that finding consensus on trade agreements becomes nearly impossible if all 535 members of Congress get a chance to rewrite the terms of trade agreements American officials have spent painstaking years negotiating with multiple foreign partners. And as Representative Froman wrote in a recent Foreign Affairs article, The Strategic Logic of Trade, “By ensuring that Congress will consider trade agreements as they have been negotiated by the executive branch, TPA gives U.S. trading partners the necessary confidence to put their best and final offers on the table.” At the same time, TPA increases transparency in U.S. trade policy, for it establishes consultation and notification requirements for the President and USTR to follow throughout the trade agreement negotiation process—ensuring that Congress, interested stakeholders, and the general public are closely involved before, during, and after the conclusion of trade agreement negotiations.

TPA thus constitutes an effective mechanism for Congress to delegate its Constitutional authority to U.S. negotiators to “regulate commerce with foreign nations” as stipulated in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. And that’s why, since the TPA’s inception in 1974, it has been used successfully by both liberal and conservative Presidents and Congresses to complete many of the agreements that we have now: Clinton and the North American Free Trade Agreement, Bush and free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. In short, without TPA, the United States risks sacrificing its ability to effectively shape the terms on which globalization and future global trade occurs, as ITIF Senior Analyst Stephen Ezell argued at a recent ITIF event discussing the need to reauthorize trade promotion authority.

And with the United States currently negotiating ground-breaking trade deals with Asia-Pacific and European trade partners in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) trade agreements, part of what Deputy United States Trade Representative Robert Holleyman calls “the most ambitious trade agenda in history,” the necessity of TPA could not be clearer. That’s why President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address forcefully called on Congress to pass TPA: “I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.”

This puts the ball squarely in Congress’s court, hence today’s House and Senate hearings, including Representative Froman’s testimony. ITIF encourages policymakers from both parties to put aside their partisan differences and work together to reauthorize this important legislation which will assist in promoting American competitiveness and economic growth for years to come.

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