Bicameral Trade Agenda Hearings Held on the Hill
Last week, both the Senate Committee on Finance and the House Ways and Means Committee held hearings with a single witness, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman, to examine the status and potential impact of trade policy on American businesses and workers. Both the hearings specifically dealt with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade pact the U.S. is currently negotiating with 11 Asia-Pacific countries and Trade Promotion Authority legislation, formerly known as “fast-track,” which gives the president authority to negotiate trade agreements that Congress would quickly vote up or down without the opportunity to amend. Ambassador Froman also discussed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently in the works with the European Union, and negotiations with the World Trade Organization (WTO).
At the widely-attended hearings, both Republicans and Democrats raised concerns about the need to provide strong provisions in the TPP that address a range of issues, including: intellectual property theft; currency manipulation; pharmaceuticals; raising global labor and environmental standards; lowering barriers to auto and agricultural imports, including pork, beef and dairy; allowing the free flow of data across borders; and other barriers to trade that negatively impact U.S. exporting.
In response, Ambassador Froman told lawmakers that TPP negotiators are working to address most of these concerns by expanding trade agreements that reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers, and harmonize regulations and standards, while also providing stronger trade enforcement and intellectual property protections. When asked if there was action being taken in the TPP discussions on currency manipulation, Froman stated that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew would be taking the lead on the issue.
These hearings, as well as the ongoing trade talks are particularly important for Democrats who are cautious about supporting the president’s trade agenda, mainly due to concerns with transparency and the long-term impact on U.S. jobs. During the hearings, Froman assured members that the administration is working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to make certain the process is transparent and ensured that text of the TPP would be made public prior to a vote. Additionally, in a campaign to build support for trade policy, the USTR will soon launch a new website with information about the TPP and how it will benefit Americans.
For the most part, Republicans are in favor of the president’s trade agenda and have recently called for the administration to ramp up their efforts to convince Democrats to back TPA and the trade deals. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) reaffirmed that his panel was doing all they could to help in the efforts to grant TPA authority to the president, and that he was currently working on a bill with Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
More than 80 percent of the world’s customers exist outside the U.S., making trade an integral part of the modern economy. In August 2014, U.S. exports reached $198.5 billion of goods and services, the highest figure ever recorded. Within the last year exports of goods and services totaled $2.3 trillion, which is more than 45 percent higher than export levels in 2009. In fact, over the past five years export levels have been increasing at an annualized rate of 8.8 percent.
Today, small businesses make up over 90 percent of American companies that export, however more than half of those small business exporters are only selling to one foreign market. Reducing barriers to trade will help create vast opportunities for small businesses, opening global markets to sell their products and enabling them to increase their growth, investments and job creation in the U.S.
For additional information visit the USTR’s website at www.USTR.gov.